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Understanding 5G: Expansion, Connectivity, and Cybersecurity



Solutions Review’s Expert Insights Series is a collection of contributed articles written by industry experts in enterprise software categories. Gary Grimes of Maven Wireless walks us through everything you need to know about integrating 5G into the enterprise, including cybersecurity.

Expert Insights badgeIn the wireless communications world, the vision of the opportunities for new revenue-generating services has been effectively shared with an ever-growing customer base. For customers, wireless services that started as “nice to have” turned into “must-have” capabilities. This drives the network operators to offer services with higher throughput and lower latency to meet these demands creating a snowball effect in the industry.

For some time now, it has been assumed that every mobile device needed Wi-Fi access in order to provide maximum data throughput. That is starting to change. The aggressive deployment of mid-band 5G service is decreasing the reliance on Wi-Fi as more 5G-compatible devices become available. This trend will increase rapidly once mmWave 5G becomes ubiquitous. This is especially true for indoor coverage. It is well known that most mobile communications requiring high bandwidth occur in localized environments such as stadiums, convention centers, hotels, office buildings, etc.

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The Inevitability of 5G: Wi-Fi’s Limitations

Wi-Fi has inherent limitations that make this transition to 5G inevitable. Although Wi-Fi is available with high security, Wi-Fi deployment is based on a real estate grab. That is, as an unlicensed service, each venue can decide which version of Wi-Fi security they want to deploy. Most of the time, this is simple open Wi-Fi with little or no security. This means those network connections are vulnerable to IP spoofing, man-in-the-middle attacks, and other threats allowing third parties to steal identities, compromise financial and other sensitive business data, eavesdrop on communications, and more.

By contrast, commercial mobile services have high levels of encryption and other security built in. And since these are licensed services which nationwide network providers acquire through spectrum auctions, that high level of security is common across the entire network – not limited to any particular venue. So, once commercial mobile networks offer data speeds and low latency that matches or exceeds Wi-Fi capabilities, they will always be preferred by private and business users who require secure communications.

Of course, these are paid services, but, since they are nationwide (and beyond), plans can be offered at competitive prices based on sheer volume. The same goes for devices. With high data speeds and especially low latencies, along with the availability of cost-effective devices, 5G networks enable improved business, healthcare, and urban improvements using IoT (Internet of things). Once again, it is the ubiquitous availability of 5G with a common high security that will make this possible. Businesses will be able to deploy common cybersecurity, customer analytics, and asset management tools that respond instantly to real-time data. Cities can deploy sensors to monitor traffic so that traffic lights can be set to maximize traffic flow. Sensors can also be installed widely to monitor water, electricity, gas, and waste to optimize these services and quickly compensate for and repair any system faults.

Practical Considerations for 5G Implementation

Just having 5G technology is not enough. The network operators and venues must be able to deliver it to the users. Although mmWave 5G has considerable bandwidth, it is at high frequencies such as 28 GHz and 39 GHz. This results in a) propagation distances in free space that are much lower than the lower bands and b) absorption through walls that is much higher for indoor coverage. This means that the RF front end to the network must be close to the user. Otherwise, the signal-noise-ratios are degraded, which throttles the usable throughput, which in turn, negates the added value of the network. Since they must be close to the user, the remote radio heads for the network can be lower power. And, because of the high frequencies, the antennas are physically small, which allows the radio head to be compact and easier to blend into the in-building environment.

This in-building coverage can be realized using distributed small cells or a distributed antenna system (DAS). The small cell approach has the advantage that it can also maintain a low uplink Noise Figure (high sensitivity) which is necessary to realize high uplink throughput. Most DAS designs involve fiber-fed radio heads with higher power that feed a network of passive coaxial cable, splitters, and taps connected to the coverage antennas. This passive section directly degrades the uplink Noise Figure. Also, DAS usually uses more than one remote unit to cover a sector. This means that the uplink to that radio has the combined RF noise from all the remotes connected to it.

Nevertheless, a DAS architecture has many other advantages, such as combining all available services on a single platform which simplifies installation, monitoring, and control. The only DAS designs that support compact, low-noise remote units directly connected to the coverage antennas (fiber to the edge) while maintaining low additive noise are the new digital DAS systems. These systems have sufficient bandwidth to support the new mmWave 5G services on the same platform as the mid-band and low-band services. Bundling all services on a single platform ultimately results in the most cost-effective and future-proof approach.

Who Pays for 5G Access?

For Wi-Fi, it is usually the venue owner. For commercial mobile services, the argument is whether the venue owner sees in-building coverage as a necessary utility increasing the value of the property or, if he sees guaranteed in-building coverage as a favor to the network operators. With customer requirements shifting to ubiquitous, high bandwidth, low latency 5G and away from low security, localized Wi-Fi, the venue owners will have to accept robust in-building mobile 5G as a required utility.

The New NIS 2 Directive and DAS Implementation

In light of the new NIS 2 requirements set forth by the European Union in December 2020, it is more important than ever for organizations to prioritize cybersecurity measures. The new NIS 2 directive reinforces cybersecurity to support a secure digitalization. NIS 2 requires building owners to prevent and prepare for attacks to keep the network infrastructure intact and secure. The potential consequences of a successful cyber-attack can be devastating, ranging from financial losses to reputational damage and even legal ramifications. Therefore, DAS prepares organizations to be well-equipped to handle any future legislation. Complying with the NIS 2 directive is crucial for all organizations to protect against cyber-attacks, and implementing a DAS system can help building owners fulfill their cybersecurity responsibilities while also simplifying compliance efforts.

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