Trust is not a ‘nice-to-have’. It is the foundation of any business relationship. That is particularly true in the telecommunications business, where huge amounts of personal data moves between devices every day.
Trust will be especially critical in the 5G era. This new generation of connectivity will bring with it a trillion-dollar opportunity for new networks and new services — but only if those networks and services are completely watertight. Consumers do not want their private information to fall into the wrong hands. The same goes for businesses, who will use 5G networks to transfer business-critical and highly-sensitive data.
The way I see it, 5G is only worth it if it begins and ends with trust. This is not about political issues or differences between countries. After all, the importance of trust is something we can all agree on.
Securing a network with no borders
It used to be easy to build a secure network. Communications Service Providers – the providers of telecom services – could do it all themselves, creating closed, purpose-built systems with well-defined security perimeters.
Not anymore. 5G networks are complex. They consist of multiple layers of equipment, processes, and services, from data center processors and cloud management stacks all the way up to operations center software. Each of these layers is (at least in part) ‘open’ – enabling new levels of interoperability between and among different partners or suppliers.
5G will also introduce an entirely new characteristic called network slicing: isolating distinct, end-to-end virtual slices of the network tailored to specific customers or applications. Because each slice will be different — one might be used for a public safety solution, another for cloud gaming — their security needs will vary. So 5G security has to be flexible enough for that too.
The stakes are high. 5G slicing represents a huge new revenue opportunity for service providers. But those providers, like end users, need to be confident that the network and applications are safe.
Security essentials in 5G
There are a few prerequisites for achieving that safety: scalability, sophistication and speed.
Scalability means giving a company’s security operations the ability to secure every application in real time; even those running in the cloud. This would address one of today’s biggest security risks: the fact that threats are so numerous, varied and complex that traditional means of dealing with them simply cannot keep pace with the constant streams of network alarms. The answer to this challenge is orchestrated analytics, machine learning and automation which can detect and extinguish threats automatically, with minimal human input.
The 5G environment will also demand more sophisticated security features. As services evolve and new cloud-native services are created, the “service landscape” will become increasingly varied and software updates will become ever more frequent. That could open the door to new vulnerabilities. At Nokia, we’re investing in solutions such as attestable and verifiable “digital fingerprints” to ensure the integrity of every component of a service from end-to-end.
Finally, speed is at the center of 5G’s value proposition. By utilizing advancements such as edge computing we are able to move data processing away from remote centralized hubs and nearer the end user. This will dramatically improve latency – in other words, the time it takes for your device to respond to what you tell it to do. Security solutions will be able to use this too, bringing the security blanket closer to at-risk devices.
Building trust in 5G
I believe that businesses and consumers should be very excited about 5G. It is faster, more reliable and more flexible than any previous generation of mobile technology.
But in a world where these things are just accepted, what will become one of the key differentiators?
The answer is trust and security.
Not all communications service providers will want to invest in comprehensive, belt-and-braces security. Some will be satisfied with a network that does the basics, but nothing more than that. That is fair enough, when you consider the huge spend needed to roll out 5G globally. But it also provides an opportunity for bolder, more visionary operators to distinguish themselves by being the most secure and trusted player in their market.
I believe that communications service providers who take this route will attract more customers, inspire greater loyalty, and, importantly, represent a far more compelling prospect for businesses that want to digitalize.
In other words, for the 5G pioneers, everything will — and must — start and end with trust.