As 5G networks continue to expand globally, there is increasing demand for advanced 5G network and device testing. In order to facilitate a se­­am­less transition to 5G, stakeholders op­erating in the network and device testing domain have been working to develop sol­utions that can ensure consistent 5G performance for end-users. These collective to­ols, software, protocols, and practices, whi­ch are in­tegrated into the 5G deployment pro­cess, are at the core of 5G testing.

Apart from testing, ensuring network security is critical for the smooth delivery of 5G services. 5G brings with it a new set of security concerns, stemming from its limited built-in security, open nature and ubiquitous adoption in the enterprise. As 5G is poised to become an integral part of information technology (IT), operational technology (OT) and all vertical in­frastructures, organisations must take stri­n­gent security measures to cover the en­ti­re spectrum of 5G implementation.

Further, 5G security will require orga­nisa­tions to rethink and adjust their security platforms to match the level of performance it promises. Most legacy security solutions are just not fast or adaptive en­ou­gh to safeguard 5G against cyberattacks, while also supporting performance and digital innovation. A broad, integrated, comprehensive network security platform can provide security at the required speed.

According to GlobalData research commissioned by Nokia Corporation, co­m­munication service providers (CSPs) ac­ro­ss the globe require stronger 5G network capabilities as cyber breaches increa­se worldwide. Around 56 per cent of the CSPs surveyed believe that they need to substantially improve their cyber capabilities, whereas 68 per cent said that they ne­ed to sharpen their defence against ran­som­ware threats.

Malware, identity thefts, misconfiguration, denial of service, application layer attacks, social engineering and phishing are areas where CSPs need to improve. Al­most 75 per cent of CSPs reported that their networks have experienced up to six security breaches in the past year. They also stated that 5G standalone deploymen­ts could increase security vulnerabilities. This is mainly due to the disaggregation of network components.

Network and device testing 

Stakeholders across the testing and measurement (T&M) domain must ensure that the testing of 5G networks and devi­ces includes everything from standardisation of new processes to the development and manufacturing of components, wireless devices and base stations. Due to the highly complex and sophisticated technology behind wireless 5G devices, the telecom sector needs T&M solutions that can address this complexity through new technology standardisation, product design and production.

The testing of 5G networks and devi­ces involves more than verifying ultra-fast download speeds, extremely low latency and expansive coverage density. There­fore, end-to-end testing solutions are be­ing adopted for the development, deployment and operation of 5G networks.

Further, these solutions have rapidly ad­apted to the complex use cases and who­lesale architectural advancements that en­c­ompass core, transport, radio access network (RAN) and fibre network elements. This convergence of dynamic system elements makes automated, real-time intelligence platforms another important pillar of 5G network performance testing and optimisation. Yet another key aspect that needs to be considered for 5G network and device tes­ting is standardisation. Standardisation is ultimately the key to developing accurate 5G test models, which in turn lead to more harmonised test practices. With the long term evolution standard now adop­ted worldwide for phones and other mobi­le devices, a similar evolution is expected for 5G testing best practices.

Going forward, due to the enormous fr­e­­quency range and high-bandwidth services inherent in 5G technology, the standardisation of best practices will continue to ev­olve as technology, tools and applications are developed across the 5G ecosystem.

Ensuring network security

As our digital world continues to evolve and expand, so does the innovation in the digital attack surface of networks and devi­ces. The introduction of new technologies and devices across organisations simultaneously increases the attack surface, posing new cybersecurity risks.

Integrating 5G networks and devices in the digital ecosystem is no different. With the launch of 5G, organisations that do not have a comprehensive security platform in place to expand and adapt to chan­ge are vulnerable to cyber risks. Enterpri­ses that do not proactively implement a comprehensive 5G security strategy to meet these changes before they occur run the risk of compromising endpoints and users, facing latency and bandwidth issues and ultimately losing customers and revenue.

Further, advancements in 5G will fundamentally alter enterprise and network performance. As network demand increases so will the complexity of the network. Hen­ce, 5G will require security at the edge for all devices and applications. It is critical that a unified 5G security and networking or security-driven networking approach is in place to protect against threats and securely increase network capabilities.

End-to-end testing

With the proliferation of cloud-native and virtualised networks, network operations experts are recognising that legacy visibility models are inadequate in these cloud-native, highly disaggregated and fully virtualised network environments. With new service delivery models becoming essential for successful 5G deployments, testing in­dividual open-RAN infrastructure components is no longer feasible. There are also fundamental changes in how new services such as 5G, multi-access edge computing, software defined wide area network, secure access service edge and O-RAN are being developed, deployed and optimised for market consumption. This means that true end-to-end testing and assurance, from a user device to the core net­work across all layers (physical, transport, network, service), is highly imperative. This includes benchmarking and field testing, cloud infrastructure validation, se­curity tests and isolation of application and network issues.

Security issues related to public and private networks

In the 5G world, both public and private, or hybrid 5G networks, will be the dominant forms of 5G enterprise consumption. As per industry research, enterprises considering 5G would prefer to use private 5G networks to have better control on the networks. One reason is that large enterprises are cautious of network slicing within public 5G networks due to potential se­curity risks. However, private 5G networks are not necessarily safer than public 5G networks. This is because increased ex­­posure to industrial IoT, physical mobility of people and de­vices on the network, and the interplay bet­ween the enterprise, mobile network operators (MNOs), IoT manufacturers, and OT vendors and suppliers contri­bu­tes to 5G security challenges, whether the network is private or not.

5G security at the edge

5G networks have highlighted the importance of bringing data storage and compute capabilities closer to the end-user in the fo­rm of edge computing. Edge computing al­so allows better data collection and analysis for making adjustments quickly, thereby improving customer experiences.

However, edge computing can also add complexity to an organisation’s security fra­mework. This is because as more end-po­ints are added to the network to support the remote workforce, the threat landscape becomes larger, splintered, and harder to manage and maintain. Further, organisations can deploy edge-based computing with­out considering the security implications.

Adopting a holistic approach

Net, net, stakeholders need to adopt effective solutions that consider both 5G network and device testing and ensure the security of networks. An effective solution ne­eds to be part of a cohesive 5G security strategy that encompasses all networks, end­points, devices, users and edges. This requires a system that can operate seamle­ssly in any environment, with modular security elements that can automatically co­rrelate information, dynamically share intelligence and participate in coordinated responses. This approach can substantially mitigate vendor sprawl and provide the network visibility and collaboration needed to enable even the most basic cybersecurity requirement. Organisations and service providers need to ensure that the performance and availability that 5G requires can be provided by their security and testing solutions. These solutions must also be part of a unified testing and security framework, and not separate, isolated tools that can cause additional issues related to configuration, orchestration and threat response.