5G has captured the attention of world audiences as the technology promises next-generation speeds and capabilities. And while that technology isn’t currently widely available, some experts predict that 5G will cover 40% of the world by 2024 and 25% of all mobile traffic data. However, to make 5G available and safe, Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) will need to overcome security challenges and transformation hurdles that didn’t exist for 4G and earlier technologies. If 5G is not secure, we lose many of the benefits it has to offer. In this article, we’ll answer what 5G offers over 4G LTE and earlier technologies and what obstacles MNOs need to overcome to migrate to 5G, as well as how PKI can address common challenges with 5G migration.
Benefits of 5G
Imagine smart cars that can communicate with other vehicles on the road to avoid traffic, surgeons operating remotely to improve global healthcare access, or drones with augmented reality to go where humans cannot. These solutions, and many more, are possible with 5G. With 5G, MNOs are no longer designing mobile networks for just smartphone users. 5G networks also enable faster communication, stronger connection and more connected devices, all while reducing maintenance costs and energy consumption.
5G supports speeds up to 100x faster than LTE/4G. Faster speeds would make possible AI and real-time monitoring. Instead of messaging, we could use virtual and augmented reality to transport remote telepresence. 5G will make the world more connected than ever. For example, in healthcare, it can connect doctors with patients around the world in real time, enabling virtual surgery, physical therapy, etc.
More connected devices
Currently, 4G networks can accommodate a few thousand devices per square mile. You might have noticed that your 4G LTE phone is only getting one or two bars during peak use times. That’s because there are too many devices competing for the available bandwidth. But 5G can potentially connect millions of devices, and at faster speeds. This opens the possibility for more industrial connected devices and smart cities (think self-driving cars, robot taxis and automated traffic management).
With 5G enabled, users can get crystal clear video calls. That means no more “Hello? Can you hear me?” on Zoom! A stronger connection also means that devices can go cable-free without the limited range and latency of today’s technology, opening up devices to move with ease. For example, in factories manufacturing devices could then move around the factory floor with ease.
Challenges of 5G migration
With these promised benefits and more, MNOs are focused on enabling enhanced mobile broadband, low latency services and an ultra-reliable and scalable network as quickly as they can. But 5G is a significant shift from 4G, which was first introduced in 2008. 4G had simpler security requirements and a more monolithic infrastructure. Additionally, 4G was built on physical environments, while networks using 5G are transitioning to virtual environments. Thus, telecommunications companies are deploying infrastructure in the cloud for the first time. On top of that, they must adapt to the flexibility and scalability of 5G while remaining compliant to industry standards. Amidst these challenges, MNOs are looking for an all-inclusive security solution to meet their needs.
MNOs must meet growing legal and regulatory mandates, all while delivering service at scale. 5G standards are evolving with 5G technology, and MNOs need a solution that can adapt quickly to remain compliant. Additionally, their solution must ensure data privacy, and encryption is a great way to do this. Data privacy has increasingly been top of mind and new standards have evolved to protect it, such as the GDPR and the California Consumer Privacy Act. Finally, they must maintain strong protection of every layer of cloud computing technology to minimize risks and maintain operational integrity.
Increasing threat landscape
Furthermore, more connected devices also increase the threat vector to protect. Mobile networks are not just for smartphones anymore. MNOs must keep up with requirements for a variety of devices, ranging from smartwatches to smart cars connecting to their networks. Hackers will take advantage of the growing potential of targets. And unfortunately, MNOs do not regulate how software is secured on other devices from third party vendors. But they can require strong credentials to authenticate which devices connect to their network. Besides keeping track of device identity, MNOs also need to ensure that the messages they send are authentic and remain untampered. To maintain data integrity and improve security, users and devices must be authenticated and data needs to be encrypted.
Agility at scale
MNOs’ networks need performance at scale. They must be able to rapidly respond to changing customer demands and enable easy launches for new products or product updates. Customers expect delivery in minutes or seconds — in some cases requiring an unprecedented speed to create and manage services (faster than what current systems and manual processes can keep up with). These high-speed, low-latency services must be able to respond across the world’s largest networks with seamless performance. Automation can help MNOs efficiently manage their networks at scale, and we suspect that automation will play a key role in helping MNOs maintain agility while reducing the manual burden of managing demands at scale.
Cellular networks need to provide authentication between users and devices and the network plus encrypt communication between them. 3GPP has specified new and improved authentication methods for 5G (4G defines 4G EPS-AKA, while 5G defines three methods: 5G-AKA, EAP-AKA’, and EAP-TLS).
Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) offers the authentication and encryption that MNOs need to deploy for 5G. PKI has facilitated secure exchanges of information for websites, documents, code, email, devices and users for decades. It can be applied to enable high levels of trust in a variety of environments, including 5G.
Additionally, PKI allows administrators to set expiration dates for certificates, revoke access to users and devices at any time, and even embed device identity so they have full visibility over connected users and devices. A modern PKI solution offers the visibility, flexibility and operational integrity required for 5G transformation.
PKI solves a variety of problems like traditional website security, secure remote work needs and email, and it can also secure 5G transformation. Stay tuned for our next blog on how PKI can help MNOs secure the cloud.