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Jimmy Jones: UK Telecom Security Bills Drive Global Regulation and Network Security Standards Beyond 5G

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Jimmy Jones, a telecom cybersecurity expert for Positive Technologies

The telecoms security bills raised for consideration in the UK parliament recently are really interesting, but not just for the reason that has been the focus of the major news agencies.

The Huawei situation has been front and center of all reporting and as a reflection of the current global political environment, that is only right. The rift between China and the West has probably never been larger and Huawei have found themselves front and center.

However, uncertainty surrounding Huawei has been present for some time now, so it’s possible that mobile operators have already planned for life without them.

Reading deeper, there are other areas of interest. The law is establishing the operator’s security responsibility beyond the exclusion of certain vendors, to network security as a whole, as well as forcing change in the telecom supply chain, driving vendor diversity to combat the security vulnerabilities of monoculture or duo culture networks.

But these goals are not unique to the UK.

The Prague conference and a 5G agreement on security

In 2019, 32 countries attended a 5G conference in Prague and announced an agreement in principle on security. Shortly after the event, the European Union released the EU Toolkit, which was supported by a document from ENISA, the Europen Union’s Cyber security advisers. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency in the U.S. released a strategy document of late that mirrored much of the EU’s.

Within both papers, and others globally, we see reference to greater regulatory powers, and in the last week the UK has been the first to move enshrining these powers in law, while at the same time setting the bar for fines, £100,000 a day or 10% of revenue.

Even with Brexit looming, the UK will still closely align with the EU and are part of the wider “5 eyes partnership”, so it’s reasonable to expect the fines and laws to be similar and follow closely in these associated states. Additionally, the Trump administration’s “Clean Network” initiative again mirrors the Prague agreement and this is publicly supported by a number of their allies who were not present in Prague – for example, Latin America.

Therefore, while this legislation is specific to the UK, it indicates the direction of regulation well beyond those shores.

OFCOM, the UK regulator, will be given new powers to direct telecoms providers to take interim steps to address security gaps, but this is not restricted to standalone 5G networks. The legislation states who has access to sensitive parts of the core network, how security audits should be conducted, and how customer data must be protected. This will force operators to improve their security protection for all generations, rather than just 5G networks.

The regulation was released in two parts, the second concentrating on diversifying the network beyond the one or two vendors available today. This again mirrors the stated goals of the CISA though they take it further, offering prizes and R&D incentives for innovation to secure the supply chain.

Taking on the issue of security directly by excluding Chinese vendors

This addresses a big issue directed at policy makers when they excluded Chinese vendors. The argument is that exclusion slows the rollout of 5G, so the country will either fail to take full advantage of the move to industry 4.0, or make it more expensive, or slower for consumers to benefit from the new technology.

However, we do also see the opposite effect. The Huawei strategy has accelerated Open RAN, with Dell’Oro Group predicting huge rises in investment accelerated by the decision to limit Chinese equipment, reducing competition. The UK’s decision to create the SmartRAN Open Network Innovation Centre and the support of the NeutrORAN project with NEC should also create commercial opportunity and the incentives to drive innovation and new market entrants.

Ensuring the security for this abundance of new suppliers could be a problem. The program will have its hands full keeping track and vetting these new, likely small and niche vendors. I have no doubt the labs will be able to assure the quality of solutions. But many could be functions never seen before, driven by 5G applications we haven’t thought of yet. So complexity and volumes will put the pressure on labs to certify the solutions quickly enough for the market.

New applications develop much faster than established technologies, so they need updating more often. Interactions and behavior between applications may change as new ideas are developed. So just getting new vendors securely to market is ambitious. Yet this is just the start – you must secure the long-term maintenance and management processes. This means software patching, upgrades, configuration, expansion projects and the many other day-to-day activities a network needs.

It’s a massive task, but the UK government has to be commended for starting to address an issue that will affect every country and every individual for the rest of our lives.

Jimmy Jones has worked in telecoms for such major operators as WorldCom (now Verizon) and vendors including Nortel, Genband and Positive Technologies (since 2017). From legacy telecom exchanges to integration and protocol interoperability testing, Jones changed in 2005 to SIP and Session Boarder Controller equipment. He’s been on the front lines from Tier 3 and 4 wholesale carriers to Tier 1 operators using SIP for peering and access as part of the move to IMS and LTE networks. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

Broadband Breakfast is a decade-old news organization based in Washington that is building a community of interest around broadband policy and internet technology, with a particular focus on better broadband infrastructure, the politics of privacy and the regulation of social media. Learn more about Broadband Breakfast.

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Innovation Fund’s Global Approach May Improve O-RAN Deployment: Commenters

The $1.5 billion Innovation Fund should be used to promote global adoption, say commenters.

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Illustration about intelligent edge computing from Deloitte Insights

WASHINGTON, February 2, 2023 – A global approach to funding open radio access networks will improve its success in the United States, say commenters to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

The NTIA is seeking comment on how to implement the $1.5 billion appropriated to the Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund as directed by the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022. The grant program is primarily responsible for supporting the promotion and deployment of open, interoperable, and standards-based radio access networks. 

Radio access networks provide critical technology to connect users to the mobile network over radio waves. O-RAN would create a more open ecosystem of network equipment that would otherwise be reliant on proprietary technology from a handful of companies.  

Global RAN

Commenters to the NTIA argue that in order for O-RAN to be successful, it must be global. The Administration must take a “global approach” when funding projects by awarding money to those companies that are non-U.S.-based, said mobile provider Verizon in its comments.  

To date, new entrants into the RAN market have been the center for O-RAN development, claimed wireless service provider, US Cellular. The company encouraged the NTIA to “invest in proven RAN vendors from allied nations, rather than focusing its efforts on new entrants and smaller players that lack operational expertise and experience.” 

Korean-based Samsung Electrontics added that by allowing trusted entities with a significant U.S. presence to compete for project funding and partner on those projects, the NTIA will support standardizing interoperability “evolution by advancing a diverse global market of trusted suppliers in the U.S.” 

O-RAN must be globally standardized and globally interoperable, Verizon said. Funding from the Public Wireless Innovation Fund will help the RAN ecosystem mature as it desperately needs, it added.  

Research and development

O-RAN continues to lack the maturity that is needed for commercial deployment, agreed US Cellular in its comments. The company indicated that the complexity and costliness of system integration results from there being multiple vendors that would need to integrate but are not ready for full integration. 

Additionally, interoperability with existing RAN infrastructure requires bi-lateral agreements, customized integration, and significant testing prior to deployment, the comment read. The complicated process would result in O-RAN increasing the cost of vendor and infrastructure deployment, claimed US Cellular, directly contrary to the goals of O-RAN. 

Several commenters urged the NTIA to focus funding projects on research and development rather than subsidizing commercial deployments.  

The NTIA is already fully engaged in broadband deployment in unserved and underserved areas through its Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, said Verizon. The Innovation Fund will better advance its goals by funding projects that accelerate the solving of remaining O-RAN technical challenges that continue to delay its deployment, it continued. 

US Cellular argued that the NTIA should “spur deployment of additional independent testing and certification lab facilities… where an independent third party can perform end to end testing, conformance, and certification.” 

The Innovation Fund should be used to focus on technology development and solving practical challenges, added wireless trade association, CTIA. Research can focus on interoperability, promotion of equipment that meets O-RAN specifications, and projects that support hardware design and energy efficiency, it said. 

Furthermore, CTIA recommended that the Administration avoid interfering in how providers design their networks to encourage providers to adopt O-RAN in an appropriate manner for their company. Allowing a flexible, risk-based approach to O-RAN deployments will “help ensure network security and stability,” it wrote. 

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CES 2023: Commissioner Starks Highlights Environmental Benefits of 5G Connectivity

Starks also said federal housing support should be linked to the Affordable Connectivity Program.

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Photo of FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks (left) and CTA’s J. David Grossman

LAS VEGAS, January 7, 2023 – Commissioner Geoffrey Starks of the Federal Communications Commission spoke at the Consumer Electronics Show Saturday, touting connectivity assistance for individuals who benefit from housing assistance as well as the potential environmental benefits of 5G.

The FCC-administered Affordable Connectivity Program subsidizes monthly internet bills and one-time devices purchases for low-income Americans. Although many groups are eligible – e.g., Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program enrollees – Starks said his attention is primarily on those who rely on housing support.

“If you are having trouble putting food on your table, you should not have to worry about connectivity as well,” Starks said. “If we are helping you to get housed, we should be able to connect that house,” he added.

Environmental benefits of 5G

In addition to economic benefits, 5G-enabled technologies will offer many environmental benefits, Starks argued. He said the FCC should consider how to “ensure folks do more while using less,” particularly in the spheres of spectral and energy efficiency.

“This is going to take a whole-of-nation (approach),” Starks said. “When you talk to your local folks – mayors – state and other federal partners, making sure that they know smart cities (and) smart grid technology…making sure that we’re all unified on thinking about this is exactly where we need to go to in order to drive down the carbon emissions.”

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CES 2023: 5G Will Drive Safer Transportation

More comprehensive data-sharing is made possible by the reduced latency of 5G, CES hears.

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Photo of Aruna Anand, Durga Malladi, and Derek Peterson (left to right)

LAS VEGAS, January 5, 2023 – Panelists at the Consumer Electronics Show 2023 on Thursday touted the potential for 5G to make transportation safer by enabling information sharing between vehicles and with infrastructure.

5G is expected to expand connectivity by attaching small cell connectivity equipment on various city infrastructure, including traffic lights and bus shelters. 

More comprehensive data-sharing is made possible by the reduced latency of 5G, said Aruna Anand, president and CEO of Continental Automotive Systems Inc., referring to connectivity communications times. Anand argued that making relevant information available to multiple vehicles is key to improving safety.

“We give more information about the surroundings of the vehicle to the car to enable [it] to make better decisions,” Anand said.

Durga Malladi, senior vice president and general manager for cellular modems and infrastructure at chip maker Qualcomm, described a 5G-enabled “true ubiquitous data space solution” in which vehicles and smart infrastructure – e.g., traffic lights and stop signs – communicate with one another.

Asked for predictions, Malladi forecasted an increased “blend” of communications and artificial intelligence technologies. Anand said 6G is expected to emerge by 2028 and make its way to vehicle technology by 2031.

Both realized and predicted innovations in 5G-enabled technologies have driven calls for expanded spectrum access, from private and public sectors alike. The Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the respective overseers of non-federally and federally-used spectrum, in August agreed to an updated memorandum of understanding on spectrum management

Although relatively new, this agreement has already been touted by officials.

The FCC, whose spectrum auction authority Congress extended in December, made several moves last year to expand spectrum access.

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