Going into 5G, don't forget security

10 May 2019

For years telco revenues as measured in Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) have been on a decline. As consumers and business acquire a taste for broadband and mobile broadband connectivity, operators are pressured to offer bigger and faster pipes, and to do so more cheaply lest competition from OTTs and mobile virtual network operators (MVNO) take home the bacon. We have reached a point where telcos are finding themselves becoming almost exclusively connectivity vendors– what some call “the pipe business”.

As Gunter Reiss (pictured), vice president of strategy at A10 Networks, tells it, that a lot of operators want to get out of being labeled a telco – a connectivity provider.

He cites the comment made by Johan Johan Wibergh, chief technology officer at Vodafone: “We want to become a technology provider. We want to become a service provider to the enterprise community.”

Based on what we understand about 5G technology, this may just be what the industry is praying for. Some believe that 5G features like network splicing, enhanced mobile broadband, ultra reliable low latency communications and massive machine type communications, are all geared towards the performance requirements of enterprises.

To date, a number of telcos in Asia and around the world are making significant investments in 5G with the intent to target enterprise opportunities. One area that has always lagged when it comes to understanding and planning for is around security.

At the 2019 Total Security Conference, a chief security officer speaking at a panel noted that “if you want to stay secure from cyber threat, then stay out of the internet.” However, the reality is that internet has become so embedded into everyday living [and business] that it would be a business suicide if any business stays out of it.

So for telcos, the challenge is building infrastructure, including 5G-based connectivity solutions, that appeal to the risk appetite of their enterprise customers.

In an exclusive interview with Telecom Asia, Reiss opens up to the threats and opportunities operators must face as they rise to the 5G challenge.

Given that operators will need to invest more around security as part of their 5G rollout. How do they monetize in these investments?

Gunter Reiss: There are two ways:

First, every operator has to protect their own infrastructure because the system is their bread and butter.

Secondly, we see a lot of operators today starting to offer a managed security services to enterprises. Cloud providers are doing the same thing.

Instead of buying a DDoS appliance directly for your premises, you want a DDoS service – literally just buying it as part of your connectivity, or part of any of the other specific IoT services you would buy from a mobile operator. You would add the security services on top of it.

This is why service providers and mobile operators in the 5G world will finally become a true service providers and partner to the enterprise community.

This is how they will monetize their investments, including security.

As operators near 5G rollout, what remains their biggest concern?

Gunter Reiss: That would be – “How can we protect our mobile infrastructure?”

It's the same as what they have now with 4G – just with 5G, they realize that they have more points to protect. If you think about it in 4G it was the GI-LAN infrastructure they just needed to protect – and it doesn’t scale. Scale requirements just weren’t there.

But what we see now, they have to protect the peer points. They have to protect the mobile edge – this is what they are building the architecture for. That's the conversations we have with them.

There is another aspect – our latest DDoS weapons report revealed more than 23.5 million DDoS weapons all around the world. The largest number is more than 6 million in China, followed by 3 million in the US. And as you go into each country, we can actually highlight how many DDoS weapons there are. This is important for operators because this is proactive defense of your infrastructure.

So that's basically how we help these operators to protect the infrastructure. And again, it doesn't really matter if they're on 4G right now. They are realizing that they have to protect the infrastructure. They have to start planning, investing and allocating budgets for the protection of the mobile infrastructure along the journey to 5G.

You don't want to wait and suddenly say, “Now that I’m launching 5G, it’s time for me to adjust my security architecture or infrastructure, and how I deal with [connectivity] suppliers.”

As operators look to harness the non-traditional business opportunities presented by 5G, including areas like Smart Cities, what should I be looking at as an operator?

Gunter Reiss: What you should look at is in order to support – ultimately as an operator – you need to increase your ARPU, you want to sell more services.

Now, particularly then with 5G, you need to build relationships with the various industries from smart cities, to governments, to hospitals, to whatever industry it is. And, of course, in that way, industry explosion of the IoT endpoints – depending on what data you trust – up to 35 billion over the next years.

When you take all that into consideration, you have to protect your infrastructure all the way, obviously, to where the IoT endpoints get connected, and as a consequence you need a comprehensive security architecture.

And the only way to really be able to manage the scale requirements is with Intelligent Automation.

And this is where you leverage machine learning algorithms, any AI type of capabilities and analytics to get more visibility about your network and your application environment in order to really be able to secure your infrastructure. The complexity is just getting that much larger than what these operators are dealing with today.

This is basically the straightforward message I try to explain to them.

It's not about how cyberattacks will come through the internet anymore. They come through those peering partners, and they come directly from the IoT devices which get weaponized from the phones. So, you have to have protection right away at the mobile edge.

And for this, you need to leverage automation capabilities.

As activities around 5G accelerate in 2019, what's your expectation?

Gunter Reiss: 5G is still in its early stage. I think we will see over the next 12 months a lot more operators commercially launching 5G services with various used-cases.

And I would say that at least within this year, we’ll see between 20 and 30 mobile operators launching new commercial services around the world.

But 2020 is going to be, I think, that big push where more operators will come with 5G commercial services. And this, from an A10 perspective, is the opportunity. We are working with a lot of them already right now under 4G virtualization developments and securing the 4G virtualized and NFV type of environment.

Now that they are future proof and ready, from a scale perspective, to take that all the way into this full 5G architecture.

As I mentioned before, for some time, we will see a hybrid type of 4G / 5G network architecture. Then some of those early adopters will go out with the 5G standalone, network architecture.

Even if the operator is not launching 5G yet in 2019, they're already working and starting to work with us on their plans towards 5G and how to protect that infrastructure. This is why we are super thrilled and excited about it.

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