FLUENT: Perspectives from Softcat

PROMISES, PROMISES.

WILL 5G DELIVER BUSINESS BENEFITS AND HOW DO YOU PLAN FOR ITS ARRIVAL?

Here we go again, another generation of mobile network that promises faster, better and just ‘more’. 5G is technically very different to previous mobile network generations and so does it really have the opportunity to live up to its promise?

REIMAGINING THE TECHNOLOGY

The 5G network is the first to be created with the Internet of Things (IoT) in mind. More connected devices than ever before mean that previous technology can’t deliver the overall capacity required, and so 5G is driven more by software than it is by the physical infrastructure.

The outcome is genuinely faster speeds (potentially up to 100 times faster than 4G); lower latency (the lag between sending and receiving information is reduced from c.200 milliseconds to one); and network slicing (which provides dedicated resource to specified use cases).

In short, it really will be faster, have better response times and enable more things to happen at once. With this significant change on the horizon – and the UK Government planning to cover most of the country with 5G signal by 2027 – businesses must be prepared if they’re to reap the rewards on offer.

But what if you don’t intend on expanding your IoT solutions, or even have them in the first place? What does 5G bring to your organisation overall?

5G, DAY-TO-DAY

The day-to-day benefits of 5G include improved speed and lower latency. So, businesses can work seamlessly on previously slow or lagging apps. Obtaining a consistent, fast connection when you are on the train will also be genuinely possible, therefore the biggest difference will be for those working remotely. Greater bandwidth supports platforms like Microsoft Teams in their full spectrum of tools which, currently, are often limited for those working out-of-office or on the go. With 5G, video calls will be seamless.


Early test speeds on 5G connection have even reached the Gigabits range – potentially providing a more efficient experience than that offered even by fixed-line broadband, wherever users are. This increased speed and capacity also lends itself to big data analytics. We can record and scrutinise data across a wider network of connected devices on a scale simply not possible using previous generations or even on-site internet connection.

The result is a deeper insight into performance, finance, productivity, communication and conversions, across an organisation, ultimately informing every decision and streamlining processes. Gearing up for an effortless transition to 5G can be costly. Those managing a remote workforce will need to provide access to devices capable of carrying the network, while those replacing some of their site connectivity will have to fund this additional outlay – including the discovery, design, deployment and test phases of the technology.

However, organisations aren’t simply paying for some additional speed. The opportunities on offer from successful 5G deployment lend themselves to cost savings which immediately begin to offset the initial outgoings. For example, on-site and remote 5G provide the connectivity to make IoT a cost-cutting reality for those that do deploy it. So, smart buildings can be managed remotely – such as dimming lights and limiting power when the office is empty to reduce utility bills.

FAIL TO PREPARE, PREPARE TO FAIL

Commercial 5G coverage is currently only available in around 1,300 cities in 61 countries. So, we’ve got some way to go before it’s an established global business tool. But for those looking to make the most of its potential, it pays to be prepared for wide-scale rollout – not least because the UK is currently 4th in the global standings for 5G rollout. Preparation will depend on how you’ll use the network. If you’re simply planning to replace your team’s mobile devices with 5G-enabled alternatives – to enjoy seamless remote working – there’s not much planning needed besides purchasing devices and kitting them out with relevant apps. However, for those going a step further and replacing some of their site connectivity with 5G, the upgrade is a little more complex. These businesses will need to work with a major telecom provider to make sure a robust solution is in place for a seamless switch to the new network. Existing support contracts should be reviewed for suitability and in-house teams re-trained on new kit, to avoid downtime from potential problems after the upgrade to 5G. Larger organisations may opt to appoint a specialist ‘5G Manager’ to own the deployment and management of the technology while smaller firms replacing location connectivity will benefit from outsourcing to a fully managed service.

BRING THE WORKFORCE WITH YOU

While most employees don’t need to know the intricacies of the technology, they will need to know how to access and use key platforms and software. Ideally, this training should be hands-on to test out new kit and ask questions. In roles where 5G is set to bring about more drastic change, classroom training should be offered to all employees.

Hands-on training is once again key, with IT specialists providing live demonstrations and run-throughs of new platforms and software suites. Remote workers should then be signposted to the IT support on offer to them when they’re away from the office.

Hands-on training is once again key, with IT specialists providing live demonstrations and run-throughs of new platforms and software suites. Remote workers should then be signposted to the IT support on offer to them when they’re away from the office.

CYBER SECURITY IN THE 5G ERA


As with any new technological adoption, the rollout of 5G presents new challenges in cyber security. But it’s likely to be a more complex challenge than previous network upgrades. This is because core functions will be cloud-native, instead of hardware-based, and the increased speed and device traffic expected to mark the arrival of 5G also lends itself to greater vulnerabilities.

Firstly, 5G will require multiple stages over its development. One of these – 5G Non-Standalone – combines the use of vulnerable technologies that are susceptible to denial of service (DoS) attacks, which can shut down entire systems, causing significant cost and damage. Plus, as the 5G network core is based on software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualisation (NFV) – both making heavy use of the HTTP and REST API protocols, used widely on the internet – hacking 5G could become as simple as hacking the web.

However, it’s not all bad news. Fundamental vulnerabilities in previous network generations have inevitably been identified and patched and 5G networks offer greater privacy than previous generations. Devices joining the 5G network will be mutually authenticated and any data transmission outside the mobile operator domain – like Wi-Fi calling – will undergo secondary authentication, too.

The extent of damage caused by cyberattacks is also limited on the 5G network. Key hierarchy and module separation at architecture level mean even a successful attack on the operator’s network is limited in the amount of data the hacker can access. Remote working will also be more secure in the 5G era. Zero Trust Network Access provides an additional layer of security over the existing 5G network, protecting data stored and transferred across it.

BIG CHANGE


Security overall is a contentious issue for 5G as it underpins the concerns driven out of the US around the use of Huawei technology. At the time of writing this article, BT have begun to ‘rip-and-replace’ the Huawei technology within their 5G infrastructure (at the modest cost of c.£500m). That’s a big decision to make, but simply underpins the projected benefit that 5G will bring. Beginning your preparations earlier rather than later will mean you have a better chance of benefitting from the promise.

A U T H O R

John Boardman Account Chief Technologist


John is Softcat's pre-sales solution architect and lead consultant aligned to an exclusive set of our customers ensuring we retain correct direction to meet customer's needs, focusing on functional outcomes and measurable business benefits; all delivered through the effective delivery, consumption and management of technology.


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