August 7 2019

Security and Innovation – The Two Key Challenges for Real Progress With 5G in Europe

Security and Innovation - The Two Key Challenges for Real Progress With 5G in Europe

Interview[i] with Ricardo Silva, Chief Operating Officer, Blue Telecom Consulting. 

Computing Spain: How does the evolution of 5G look from BlueTC’s point of view?

Ricardo Silva: The commercial rollouts of 5G networks began already in 2018, including both mobile and fixed wireless deployments. During 2019 these will intensify and it is expected that around 50 5G networks will be in operation by the end of this year. A significant proportion of them in Europe.

Computing: What is the main challenge the telecoms companies face when going forward with 5G?

R. Silva: One of the most important ones is security. Companies in the telecoms industry come from a universe in which each of them used to employ their own security protocols. This way the environment remained under control and potential incidents were unlikely.

With the advent of new generations of communication technologies, this situation changes drastically. With 5G, networks evolve into a fully distributed, massively scalable and flexible system that can grow and change over time. New technologies that enable 5G, such as Software Defined Networking (SDN), Network Functions Virtualisation (NFV), Control Plane User Plane Separation (CUPS), Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) and Network Slicing open up new scenarios susceptible to new transmitters of malicious attacks. This breaks with the telecom service providers’ traditional security domain, and will require new security strategies that have a holistic view of the system as a whole. These strategies should be flexible and allow for orchestration of the entire security environment, supported by data analytics, artificial intelligence and automated policies that can help bridge the gap between attack detection and mitigation.

Computing: What other factors should the service operators consider?

R. Silva: Innovation is another great challenge. Operators must build their value propositions, both operational and commercial ones, on innovation.

From an operational point of view they must innovate in order to obtain the necessary tools and processes to evolve to “telco cloud” scenarios, with continuous delivery of services that assures speed in the development and delivery of new services and, of course, in their own management and integration of security.

Taking a commercial point of view, they should generate services that excite users and that require high speeds, very low latencies, wide coverage and maximum security, all while the rates of such services are attractive, of course. Allowing users access to unlimited 5G data at an affordable price is essential in today’s new era of super-fast speed and connectivity combined with ultra-low latencies. Clearly, the initial target group should be technology-focused users.

Computing: Do we already see concrete examples of this type of innovation?

R. Silva: Yes, for example, SK Telecom, a South Korean operator, is already betting heavily on its 5G deployments, providing augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and cloud-based gaming services, which is streaming of games based on cloud technology. And it does so with maximum security (using quantum cryptography technologies) and with rates, in some cases, even lower than those charged for LTE services. SK Telecom’s CEO himself acknowledged on the day of the launch that this marks the beginning of the “hyper-innovation” era that 5G brings us.

Another Korean operator, Korea Telecom (KT), has recently introduced the first business-to-consumer” (B2C) subscriber for its next-generation, nationwide wireless network. And previously it launched a business-to-business (B2B) network service. KT is committed to offering very low latencies, as these are essential for 5G users to enjoy immersive services, such as cloud-based streaming games and AR/VR, as well as for other key services such as autonomous driving. To assure the availability of these low latencies, KT also operates telecommunications centres based on edge computing in eight cities across the country.

Computing: What is the situation in Europe like?

R. Silva: European telecom operators must keep striving to remain key players in the future of their industry and address the two fore-mentioned challenges, security and innovation, from all angles and with the support of all actors, including the Governments. On the positive side European operators don’t have to start from scratch and can take advantage of work already carried out in other geographical regions, such as Japan, where the development of the telecommunications industry has been considered a strategic factor for economic and social progress for years. The Japanese Government obliges the telecommunications companies to carry out all their operations by employing the newest generations of networks, so they have had no choice but to adapt to this. In this way, operators in that country have had to learn how to maintain the state of the art of network security, carrying out network audits and tests with which they can detect vulnerabilities and risks in real time. A few European operators are already benefitting from their work and experiences.

In terms of innovation, given sufficient use cases already exist and that the latest report based on Gartner’s survey says up to 75% of organisations would be willing to pay more to enjoy the benefits offered by 5G, it is time for European operators to look to countries that, like South Korea, lead the space towards 5G, and take advantage of their “testing lab of the future”. It is true that this country has specific characteristics that have put it in a position from where it may continuously address and implement new technologies and also that its population is very technologically advanced and with adequate income levels. But the technological capacity of Europe is no less advantageous and this region still has the opportunity to catch the train of “hyper-innovation” that 5G brings, also counting, of course, on the capacity for innovation and the support of the European telecom network equipment manufacturers (Ericsson, Nokia).

Computing: Do European operators lack awareness in this respect?

R. Silva: Well, it is true that some have opted for a more conservative attitude, since this transformation requires considerable investments, which erroneously, in many cases are not being seen as business opportunities and as a differentiator when it comes to providing secure and innovative services. Some governments of European countries could also do with some awareness-raising. In the case of Spain, the Government should fiscally incentivise the speed with which new technologies are provided to end users (5G), which would result in “fertilised ground” for innovation (“hyper-innovation”), something that would also have a positive effect on the country’s brand image. In its latest report in the field, the European Commission characterised Spain as a “moderately innovative” country despite its strength when it comes to human capital. Communication service providers should contribute to placing Spain not just in the group of “strong innovators” but in that of the “leading innovators”. And 5G is an opportunity for just that.

The GSMA, the service operators’ international interest organisation , is also urging them to perform research and develop services encompassed under the concept of “Future Communications”, so as not to lose more ground in the innovation race and to be able to turn 5G into real benefits for the businesses and lives of its customers.

With regards to security, in the month of March the Heads of Government that met at the European Council decided that a coordinated approach to the security of 5G networks was necessary. The European Commission therefore recommended a set of concrete actions to assess the cybersecurity risks of 5G networks and thus strengthen the preventive measures. In this way, all member states must have completed a risk assessment of their 5G network infrastructures by the end of June 2019, and should update the security requirements for existing network providers that include conditions to assure the security of public networks. This latter in particular refers to the granting of rights to use radio frequencies in the 5G bands. Suppliers and operators should take into account both technical risks and risks related to the behaviour of suppliers or operators, including those from countries outside Europe. Similarly, the GSMA has recently published a report urging its members to assume that the security of their networks, unlike in the past, can no longer be guaranteed by default. Thus there is no choice but to consider a change of strategy. 

Note[i]: This interview was first published in Spanish by COMPUTING Spain, on May 30, 2019: “La seguridad y la innovación son los retos clave para un avance real de 5G en Europa”


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