The 5G standard is on the horizon, promising much higher throughput, but also greater risks of much stronger, more unpredictable network attacks. Operators and service providers need to be prepared for a dramatically altered security landscape in which attacks come from both inside and outside of the network, on a massive scale.
Yasir Liaqatullah, vice president of product management at A10 Networks, discusses these new attack vectors and the need for operators to protect not only their users but also their own infrastructure. He also discusses the importance of consolidation and how service providers can incrementally upgrade their networks in the interest of monetizing 5G use cases.
SDxCentral: How do mobile networks have to change to support 5G?
Liaqatullah: 5G is much faster and much bigger than previous generations in many respects. Multiple parts of the network will have to be modernized to take full advantage of 5G and all the use cases that it will make possible. Since 5G use cases are envisioned in such a way that they are independent of each other, service providers can choose the use case they want to focus on. Based on that decision they can drive a business strategy in which they modernize the network, monetize the use case they have in mind, and then move on to the next use case when that one is done.
SDxCentral: Will moving to 5G require providers to rebuild their existing networks?
Not really. Service providers can incrementally upgrade and enhance their networks while leveraging and monetizing use cases. 5G is designed to coexist with existing technology that supports 3G and 4G. A so-called non-standalone architecture was designed with this in mind, so that a service provider can leverage existing infrastructure as much as possible, and then take a strategic approach when it comes to modernizing and upgrading the network to address IT use cases.
5G exposes many use cases, and each use case will need some modernization. Some will require fiber optic to be laid out, others might require an additional spectrum band to be purchased. It all depends on the network you own today and use cases you want to monetize. And that’s what we’re seeing around the world: Some operators in the United States are focused on IoT use cases, others on fixed-mobile use cases, and still others on low-latency use cases.
Also, we know the data consumption rate has been rising, but it’s rising at a much, much faster rate these days—not only for 5G but also for other technologies such as LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) and LTE-A Pro. However, we see that average revenue per user (ARPU) is down in many regions of the world. A reduction in TCO is a much more important element in the conversation now.
SDxCentral: What steps should mobile providers take to handle growing subscriber demand?
One of the steps a mobile provider can do is consolidate multiple components of the network and thus decrease CapEx and OpEx costs—and that consolidation is a critical initiative that we’ve seen being taken by many telcos. Keep in mind, in the 3G and 4G days, the network grew rapidly and many components were introduced in a piecemeal fashion. The result was that the network was drawn in a way that there were many dependencies, and, in many cases, the opportunities for consolidation were lost. With 5G on the horizon, the telcos are rebuilding their networks to reopen opportunities for consolidation with a focus on cost and performance optimization.
SDxCentral: How can mobile providers balance demands for higher performance with subscriber security concerns?
It’s becoming much more important to control security—not just for the subscriber but also for the mobile operator.
One of the big challenges going forward involves higher throughput and the fact that every smartphone attached to the network is a potential weapon. With 5G, and even in the newer versions of 4G and LTE-A, the new IoT use cases mean you now have millions of devices connected to your network that can be compromised and turned into weapons, attacking not only remote machines and remote websites, but also the core of the network itself. Attacks that once targeted simple websites can now target the brains of the network and potentially bring it down.
So, how can providers balance demands? Fundamentally, security should be built into the network rather than as an afterthought.
SDxCentral: How do you anticipate orchestration to change as providers deploy 5G networks?
We believe that orchestration will be one of the first components to change. NFV is one of the key technologies that enable 5G. NFV is much more mature now and orchestration is maturing along with it. To reduce OpEx, service providers are focusing more on software components, and as a result they are focusing more on orchestration.
Understand that orchestration can not only control software but also the existing physical network. What service providers gain is a much faster time to react and time to change their network. Tasks that once took weeks or months—perhaps to install a new appliance or device—can now be done in minutes or hours to configure the network to add or remove capacity and to augment with new use cases.
SDxCentral: In your opinion, what analytics data will be the most critical for 5G network monitoring?
Analytics in the past has been about simple dashboards and descriptive analytics—describing what is happening in the network and maybe providing some capacity planning. But now analytics are used not only for descriptive but also prescriptive solutions. Predictive and prescriptive analytics can tell you when the network might fail, and in these kinds of solutions artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) will play a large role.
On the security side, because an attack can now occur in seconds, it has to be detected and mitigated in seconds and minutes rather than hours and days. That means an operator needs to be able to detect an attack immediately—even when doing so is akin to finding a needle in the haystack because of the multiple terabytes of data and the need to detect in real time. This is where existing analytics are not enough. The world is moving toward AI and ML.
SDxCentral: As service providers upgrade networks, do you anticipate the cost ratio between OpEx and CapEx to change?
We believe this ratio will change dramatically. The key drivers are software and subscriptions. 5G is forcing NFV technologies, and that means subscription models in many cases. We’re seeing that operators love the OpEx models, and they favor those over the simple CapEx models of the past.
SDxCentral: What have you learned from the 5G pilots A10 has participated in?
What we’ve learned is that 5G traffic is very different from 4G traffic. 4G traffic was all about throughput. 5G traffic is about a lot more. It’s about IoT devices sending smaller packets. It’s about millions of devices creating millions of connections. In the past, a particular telco would size its networks based on throughput, but now we’re seeing that telcos are sizing their networks based on actual demand, which improves not only throughput but all the paths and simultaneous connections a network can support. These lessons speak to the changing dynamics of 5G, as well as the changing dynamics of telcos. Remember, 5G is a journey, not a leap