Six existential threats posed by the future of 5G (Part Two)

Last updated: 06 July 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it explicitly clear to many of us just how important connectivity is in our daily lives. With the introduction of lockdowns across the globe, our reliance on internet networks to work remotely, call relatives across seas, or even to take part in leisure activities via a screen has soared.

As such, the demand for a network that can handle more users, with more devices, has never been greater. Luckily, with 5G, we have the infrastructure available to address this. However, certain challenges remain in securing this network to the point where consumers feel comfortable enough to trust it with their data.

In our previous blog on this topic, we looked into how a virtual network infrastructure, combined with the use of an unprecedented volume of data, and the introduction of the IoT on 5G networks, all posed a significant challenge to mobile operators in their desire to create secure 5G. Here, we take a deeper look into another three high-risk areas telecoms companies need to address as 5G technology progresses and more people begin to use the network.

  1. Meeting Rising Customer Onboarding Expectations

In today’s digital world, the way we receive access to services is increasingly done online. However, many mobile operators have not seemingly jumped upon this trend, continuing to onboard customers at brick-and-mortar stores. Yet we’ve seen from the impact of the pandemic the limitations that taking a pure physical approach to onboarding can cause, with the lack of alternative options ultimately hurting both the telecom company revenues and the relationships they have with their customers.

The reluctance to provide customers with a mobile app-first experience, may come from the belief that with online onboarding, it is more difficult to maintain a connection with customers. Interestingly though, the opposite tends to often be true. With more customers using digital services, more anonymous data is generated, which can be analysed by mobile operators in order to improve customer services (and boost average revenue per user), as well as to diagnose and fix network issues.

Given that most customers only change network provider if they are unhappy with the network quality they are receiving, or due to the fact they want more for the price they’re paying, the role of data analytics in solving these industry problems is increasingly important. Without innovation in this area, the telecoms sector is ripe for the kind of disruption seen in other industries – with challengers sweeping in with a purely digital offering to break up the market.

  1. Bridging the Digital Divide

As of January 2021, there were 4.66 billion active internet users worldwide. Notwithstanding this progress, the quality of the internet services provided varies greatly. Millions of people around the world today live in regions with very little high speed internet access. In the US alone, approximately 19 million Americans—6 percent of the population—still lack access to fixed broadband service at threshold speeds. This is particularly apparent in rural areas, where nearly one-fourth of the population —14.5 million people—lack access to this service.

While demand for voice and data services is high, installing the infrastructure to provide it remains an expensive and slow process, with cities often benefitting from increased network capabilities long before rural counterparts. Ultimately, this splits countries and populations by their quality of connectivity, impacting their ability to take part in all the services high speed internet provides – like online learning.

Given this slow role out, it is clear mobile network operators still need expert external support to realise the opportunities of 5G for all. By working with a partner who can provide satellite and terrestrial coverage, mobile network operators are able to provide better internet for hard-to-reach communities, as well as outdoor IoT devices or moving platforms.

  1. Leveraging the possibility offered by private networks

Unlike with previous generations of network connectivity, 5G allows for the creation of private networks that are designed specifically to give enterprises communications autonomy in a self-contained environment. These private networks are characterised by security and privacy, control, and flexibility they offer companies – particularly in areas like manufacturing, where machines on the assembly line can wirelessly connect to the private 5G network. These can be used in conjunction with AI to gain deeper insights into the business for predictive maintenance.

However, these new use cases will only be possible if critical questions around identity and security are addressed – protecting the amount of sensitive data set to be generated. This data will need to be secured to the highest standards, using encryption, in case it is stolen, and authentication practices, to ensure only authorised personnel can access it. Yet, with more companies than ever before exploring the possibility of their own 5G network, not everyone will have the internal expertise available to manage these security demands, putting them at risk.

For mobile network operators, on the other hand, the rise of these private 5G networks is an opportunity to provide a new offering known as ‘Security-as-a-Service’. This includes a package of security best practices like identity and access management, key management, and intrusion detection, to name but a few. The easiest way to help manage these new enterprise customer connectivity, security, and identity requirements, is to work in collaboration with a well-established security company that have a range of products designed to address these concerns.

Tackling these three areas successfully will provide mobile network operators with a huge new stream of revenue and customers. Nonetheless, adapting to the increasingly digital world, both in terms of cybersecurity challenges and day-to-day operations isn’t an easy task. It is clear that without a great deal of forward planning and investment from these operators to secure the trust they need from customers, 5G will not be able to reach its potential which would mean missed opportunities for all parties involved.

For more information on building a 5G world we can all trust, see our whitepaper here, or tweet us @ThalesDigiSec with your questions.

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