While the path to full 5G capabilities is clear enough, how individual operators – and their customers arrive, is not fully mapped out.

In the near and long term, operators will face three main challenges:

  • Security: For 5G, security is more broad and complex than previous generations as legacy, IP and 5G converge.
  • Performance: Not just a matter of bits-per-second or latency, performance in a dense 5G network also includes responsive, real-time network management and reliability over many nodes.
  • Adaptability: Given the complexity of the 5G ‘journey,’ systems must be in place that can easily and cost-effectively adapt to changes in technology. Similarly, operators should have the ability to make changes to their business model and introduce innovative services that could drive significant revenue.

5G’s connectedness opens issues around security that must be overcome

5G security has been under debate for many years. Security is especially important as, in recent years, interest has grown within the cybercriminal community in mobile communications.

End-to-end 5G network complexity will increase with software defined networks (SDN) and network function virtualisation (NFV) due to the pre-existence of legacy technology in different domains, its gradual evolution and introduction of new management stacks, at the same time as the tightening of data protection legislation bought about by known software vulnerabilities and increasing cyber-attacks.

As a result, we should expect a higher level of security, privacy, and integrity protection in 5G.

Traditional, closed, trusted networks were never the targets of cybercriminals, and so have always been relatively ‘secure’ – but with 5G that all changes.

The use of parallel protocol suites and technologies offers more ways for hackers to find attack vectors and gain access via different signaling connections (see Figure 1).

However, firewalls between SS7, Diameter, and HTTP/2 internetworks (3G-4G-5G) will be able to provide some of the necessary protection.

Figure 1. Internetworking firewalls for security between platforms.

Designing security with the worst-case-scenario in mind

But great progress is being made in the GSMA. The 5G standards are being developed following the basic principle of ‘Security by Design.’

This includes the use of mutual authentication with established end-party trust; the assumption that all networks are open and potentially unsafe and the assumption that all links are tapped.

One of the key elements that shows the most promise is encryption – from end-to-end. This is a paradigm shift to existing practices[1] as it requires mandatory encryption of all inter/intra-network and privacy sensitive information under all circumstances.

More radio access antennae needed to achieve one millisecond performance

The one millisecond performance requirement for full 5G support could delay full adoption and the rollout of advanced applications.

Even with Mobile Edge Compute (MEC), systems will require a far higher density of radio access antennas, improved operation support systems and, consequently, improved data center infrastructure management systems (DCIMs) for remote management.

Operators should look for innovative solutions that can easily integrate into existing or planned architectures and their operational support systems.

Businesses will need to be able to adapt at pace to embrace changes to 5G

The telecom market will become the most fluid in its history thanks to 5G. Forces are competing for market share, service revenue and new ways in which to leverage the converged networks.

With other networks, changes can occur overnight with software-only modifications. 5G end-to-end infrastructures, security, and management will also be largely software-driven and subject to modifications and enhancements at any time. These are all positive developments – if systems are in place to leverage them.

Focus must be on the ease of introducing new services, the ability to add enhancements to existing systems and maintaining reliability and security at the highest levels.

These are the hallmarks of an adaptable, business-forward strategy that should serve operators throughout the 5G journey and wherever technology will take the industry after that.

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We recently worked with Business and Industry on the 2019 5G campaign. A printed publication was enclosed within every copy of the Guardian newspaper and the content is available online at (https://bit.ly/2rN3ddU) The campaign featured exclusive content from key thought leaders and industry voices about the transformative impact of 5G on industry now and into the future.

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