Sameh Yamany, CTO, Viavi Solutions
2020 is the year, according to some, when the first 5G commercial networks could go live. For many telecom operators, 2020 can't come soon enough. Why? That's because there are billions of devices coming online, thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT). Gartner predicts that by 2020, there will be over 6.4 billion connected things worldwide. This year, it is estimated that 80 new things get connected every second and this number will be upward of 250 new things per second in 2020. These connections are keeping many telecom operators up all night. Their networks will be the workhorses to deliver connectivity to these billions of IoT devices. And many operators are hoping that 5G could be the answer to their IoT prayers.
On a Cloud
IoT's connectivity requirements are complex – and often contradictory. A surgeon performing a complex telesurgery would require ultra-low latency and high reliability, as would self-driving cars that need to pass data on roadside hazards within a matter of nanoseconds to avoid collisions. Contrast that with bandwidth-ravenous 4K video streaming applications that are not mission critical – but still require the quality-of-experience treatment to ensure that subscribers are happy with the service. All three use cases require bespoke handling.
Operators need to have the technology in place that not only delivers connectivity but can also identify, prioritize, and optimize data travelling over their networks. 2020 might be a few years away, but there are steps that operators can take to minimize – or even negate – potential issues.
A Slice of Cloud
When it comes to 5G and IoT connectivity, the concept of network slicing plays a crucial role. A network slice is a cloud-based network function that can be managed and programmed from the Radio Access Network (RAN). Think of network slicing as interconnected, multiple cloud deployments that deliver flexibility, agility, and control.
To benefit from this level of flexibility and control, operators should consider Centralized-RAN (C-RAN). C-RAN simplifies cell sites as baseband processing units (BBUs) are moved to a centralized location to serve a larger number of remote radio units than a select few. C-RAN makes it simpler for the operator to deploy network slicing and control multiple clouds over a larger area. Along with C-RAN, operators should also consider fiber-based front haul. Fiber, compared to conventional copper-based coax cables, has low link loss and delivers higher power and bandwidth connectivity – ideal for network slicing and IoT.
Cloud around the Ecosystem
What steps can players on the IoT ecosystem take ahead of 5G? Firstly, ensure that devices and underlying systems are interoperable. Devices on the IoT ecosystem need to work seamlessly and be programmable across platforms and protocols.
Next, have the infrastructure in place to analyze and share the very high volumes of IoT data that would be generated from the billions of devices and sensors. Speeds of analytics and data ingestion are all key considerations. Analytics from data clustering, deep machine learning, and predictive analytics would add value not just to the ecosystem but also to the users of IoT devices.
The distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack highlighted how vulnerable IoT devices can be to hacks and malware. Players across the ecosystem must collaborate and be transparent about different aspects of securing IoT in a 5G world. Some key considerations include: identity and authentication across different network layers; security on control and user planes; vulnerabilities with beamforming and the impact of software-defined networking and network functions virtualization (SDN/NFV) security. There is certainly a need to build robust security protocols that minimize – or ideally negate – the possibility of attack at every level within the IoT ecosystem.
Cloudy with a Chance of IoT
So, can mobile operators – and their IoT partners – tame a multi-cloud 5G landscape or are they destined to get lost in the clouds? That would simply depend on the steps they take now and the technology they deploy. Act now to secure your 5G future.