Trialing 5G with security in mind

Faster, better, stronger. Our zeal to consume more quality content at a faster pace has turned us into an impatient crowd that stares at screens almost uninterruptedly and fidgets angrily at the smallest sign of a connection hiccup – thanks, 4G LTE. But start preparing yourself mentally for the next step – it’s about to get a whole lot worse.

LTE itself is not just LTE either; there are so many variations, extensions, evolutions, developments, complements and tools – and a billion acronyms for those – to enhance the consumer experience and leave no one unsatisfied. Even though it seems like 4G has been around forever, it is still to be introduced in some areas of the world. 4G was not really 4G when it was first introduced and we do like to slap shiny labels on any trinket if it sells, so what will the 5th generation of mobile telecommunications technology be like?

The MNO perspective: What does 5G mean to MNOs?

For sure it’s going to depend on IPX architecture, IMS (VoLTE, RCS), internet-based identities and services. For simpler services, everything will be pure IP platform with lots of focus on high definition. 5G will extend the work carried out in 4G on cloud-based and AI services platforms.

Internet of things is going to be changed hugely for MNOs as it will bring a more flexible roaming architecture in the access and service layers, network slicing, service provision strategies, both home and guest network services supported by 5G. Primarily because of IoT, 5G will also bring the ability to connect virtual network functions in random locations, saturation awareness, dynamic network connectivity and reliable service provisioning.

From a security perspective, the internet will be as a backbone for end-to-end security, differentiated levels of security in service and access levels, attack anticipation, vertical markets and credentials protection when remotely downloaded.

Finally, there's the speed factor... Up to 1 Gbps throughput and less than 10 ms latency. To summarise then: more tech, more speed, more agility, better performance, new apps and vertical industries.

MNO Engagement Today

At least 36 operators from 23 countries have demonstrated 5G tech or announced 5G trials. Italy and the US seem to be the lucky ones to get a taste of 5G before everyone else but – a big but – its scope will be limited to certain apps and geographic areas until it has been fully developed.

So, what we have so far is a lot of divination and security concerns, embellished by a bit of boasting here and there – for appearances.

The Industry Perspective

From an industry perspective then there is a slightly different outlook. While there will be improved automation use cases, we believe that competition and collaboration between operators and 3rd party players will intensify.

There will be a strong focus from the industry to avoid the kind of spectrum and technology fragmentation that we saw with 4G. But since so few standards are defined for 5G right now it will be a battle to achieve this. For sure additional spectrum ranges will come into force and each will have to have impeccable security. 4G will stay to support 5G in its mission to provide unlimited connectivity everywhere.

Industry commentators expect that it will bring a 2.5% compound annual growth rate revenue in the first years of its launch. But we will have to watch out for regulations, licensing and spectrum policies that might aid or become detrimental to 5G.

Market Segments

The most impacted market segments will be:

  • Massive IoT
  • Critical communications
  • Enhanced mobile broadband
  • Network operations

And while it’s all fine and dandy, the looming threat of even worse security attacks emerges: data manipulation, subscription cloning, entry points to the network – which already exist in the current Signalling Firewall legacy system – and many more existing or soon to be developed methods for a new, unstable network.

Littlefinger, aka Lord Petyr Baelish, was right – knowledge is power. We are surrounded by an army of Littlefingers who watch us scramble for our personal information and flinch at the words “hacker”, “attack”, “stolen X amount of X cryptocurrency”.

Word on the street

People think that the full benefits of 5G will only be achieved with a full architecture change, not just a radio upgrade.

We already have enough data as it is; we are actually overflowing. There is no point in adding more before we figure out how to properly store and protect the current flow. The costs of deployment might be too high. It might be better to stick to LTE for now.

Are MNOs willing to spend billions to build a new network for others to monetise on?

Then there’s the OTT factor. 5G providers will get the bigger piece of the pie; it’s a matter of time before Facebook, Google and Amazon jump on it. Are MNOs willing to spend billions to build a new network for others to monetise on? Developers of new apps will fill their pockets – it is unlikely that telcos will think of any ground breaking 5G apps.

The services factor; will the infrastructure be able to support all these new services (say AR) without failing, regardless of movement or device switching? With 5G, negligible latency will bring a new era of professional live-streaming of sports and other live events. User-generated live streams will also proliferate, although new challenges will emerge to limit violent or inappropriate content. Downloading content will make a come-back, but live-streaming will remain the more popular option.

In the end, are we ready for 5G

Extremely saturated networks and a growing world population demanding faster, better connection seems scary if you’re an MNO – but is 5G worth it right now? LTE continues to expand in many shapes and forms, some have not been even introduced in most countries and the prevailing security issues are pulling us in a different direction, to shift our focus where it matters – privacy.

More people have access to computers than ever before; it is naïve to assume that we are bullet-proof. It might be better to take a step back and patch things up before MNOs start making the headlines with completely avertible security crises, and it doesn’t affect only them – there are millions of us.