Five 5G Challenges for Communication Service Providers

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As previous generations of network technology like 3G become outmoded, there’s much anticipation about how the latest generation –  5G – will transform operations and industries across the globe.  In this, the first in our series of blogs focusing on 5G, we explore the challenges it brings and consider the impact for network security and situational awareness.

The five key challenges we’ve identified are:

1. SERVICE CONVERGENCE

Every new generation of network technology brings advances in function, reliability and security. 2G, 3G and 4G were designed to implement voice, messaging and mobile broadband communications services. 5G is no exception and brings communications modes for massive IoT, peer to peer via side-linking, relays via access backhaul as well as the eagerly anticipated low-latency and high reliability. However, there’s concern that when millions of users’ devices  compete for resources there will be unknowns regarding the performance of these new service models with the potential for conflicting service requirements.

One of the benefits of 5G is its capacity to enforce quality of service policies, which are controlled by network automation systems.  But these AI systems require data to train them and this hasn’t been produced for new services yet.  In addition, just as there has been much debate about the robustness of the AI models used for autonomous vehicles, there are also questions about autonomous networks.  There is a risk that decisions could be made based on results from AI models that were never trained for a particular scenario resulting in the potential loss or impairment of critical services.

2. DIVERSIFICATION

The disaggregated nature of 5G architecture will encourage new market entrants, which is undoubtably a good thing, in that it makes for a more diverse and resilient supplier base. One of the key things that enables new entrants is the opensource initiative, a development method for software that harnesses the power of distributed peer review and transparency of process. This aims to bring better quality, higher reliability, more flexibility, lower cost, and an end to predatory vendor lock-in. However it could actually result in less diversity because of the reliance on just a handful of repositories delivering reference stacks.

3. NEW BUSINESS MODELS

To date, Communication Service Providers (CSPs) have operated with vertically integrated models that include handsets, spectrum, towers and core networks, but with 5G this is no longer sustainable. To reduce debt load, a significant  portion of CSP 5G infrastructure is outsourced to tower companies, neutral hosts and cloud-hosted core network elements. The challenge for CSPs is how to offer customers an attractive and compelling end-to-end experience, while being reliant on service level agreements with outsourcers to deliver their services.

4. HOSTILE THREAT ENVIRONMENT

Telecommunications infrastructure has always been a big target for cyber attacks.   Although critical infrastructures built on 5G promise high performance, the barriers to entry for criminal activity are much lower. For example, malware can attack devices, Software Defined Radio ‘war rigs’ can attack radio infrastructure and the core network can be attacked via interconnects with compromised telcos.

It’s anticipated that organized crime gangs or nation state attacks on mobile networks and connected critical infrastructure will be scaled-up. 

5. DISAGGREGATION

Until now, Enterprise IT has operated using monolithic servers, developed as a single unit,  however 5G architecture will see a move to more orchestrated microservices.    The 5G service-based architecture (SBA) has more than a dozen network functions compared to the four in the 4G core. The enhanced privacy features of 5G also limit the distribution of subscriber identifiers that may be needed by network functions to set policies.   So although disaggregation allows for the implementation of targeted network architectures, it also hampers situational awareness because of the number of ‘moving parts’. Each network function can manage their own microservice, but they lack awareness of how their policies impact the overall network operation. There’s a risk that any software changes could result in a cascade of failures.

Why this matters

These challenges highlight the risks around network fragmentation and underline the requirement for having visibility of the entire network infrastructure.  Now more than ever, CSPs need access and visibility of the data across the entire network.

Find out more about how Illuminate is working with customers across all generations of network technology, to help make their data understandable, linked, trustworthy, interoperable, and secure with 5G Situational Awareness.

About Illuminate

At the forefront of technology – we deliver strategic insight and performance with products, services, and talent that evolve at the speed of data. Currently supporting clients in defense, intelligence, and telecommunications.

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