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5G Security Has Finally Arrived

SK Telecom has achieved another “first” in 5G

When SK Telecom announced its “5GX” in 2018, it identified four distinct components to its value proposition – speed, latency, stability, and security. This is a remarkable shift from how mobile operators have traditionally differentiated themselves. Speed and reliability have been the cornerstone of most mobile operator branding strategies with 3G and 4G commercialization. By pulling security and latency into the forefront, SKT is demonstrating how important these capabilities are to the business success of 5G services and resetting the bar for how operators position their services.

This is the first time that I am aware where security has been explicitly identified in the value proposition of any mobile operator. While BT announced in 2018 the completion of the first practical quantum-secured high-speed fiber network in its labs, this was largely a proof of concept that did not extend to the general network.

The security of mobile infrastructures has always been a top priority for mobile operators, but it was handled largely through standards. Network technology was proprietary, and intrusions were almost unheard of. With 4G, this slowly started to change, but still the industry shied away from security-based marketing messages that might reveal security vulnerabilities or suggest a deeper responsibility for secure communications. SKT has done the opposite. By declaring a goal of building an “un-hackable network” using Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) encryption, SKT has thrown out the gauntlet to the rest of the industry and broadened the value definition to its subscribers.

Strong protection for mobile infrastructure and critical applications is essential for 5G.

I am personally glad to see it. I have been bothered for years by operator reluctance to leverage security in marketing messages. I found it maddening that the mobile industry, with as strong a track record of secure networks as it had, seemed to be the only industry that could not benefit from security as a value proposition. Security was assumed by subscribers as a given and have not generally been willing to pay for it. And, in the past, operators have been unwilling to step up to the promise (and responsibility) of stronger protection – until now.

Latency has also been a previously untapped differentiator

High speed has been the dominant characteristic used by competing mobile operators in the U.S. and across the world. Network speeds are the subject of much analysis and used as comparison points for consumer decisions about operators. However, network latency, even more than throughput, directly impacts the bottom-line revenue for online businesses and can affect users’ experience, especially for real-time services like streaming video, VoIP and gaming. Poor latency creates the perception of slow speeds by users, even when the actual speed is adequate.

Latency and throughput are the essential factors in network performance, and collectively, they define the speed of a network. Whereas throughput is the quantity of data that can pass from source to destination in a specific time, round-trip-time (RTT) latency is the time it takes for a single data transaction to occur, meaning the time it takes for the packet of data to travel to and from the destination, back to the source.

With a round-trip-time of 10 ms to 3 ms, SKT again is publicly raising the bar.

A10 Networks plays a central role in enhancing performance and providing security at the heart of SKT’s core network for 4G and 5G, with all incoming traffic for 5G mobile subscriptions passing through the Thunder® CFW GI/SGI firewall. A10 was the only vendor to meet SKT’s performance requirements to 200 Gbps throughput, 135 million sessions per second and stringent low latency targets. Details of SKT’s achievements and the role A10 Networks played were described in a recent HardenStance briefing, “A10 Helps SKT build Leadership in 5G”.

SK Telecom is not the biggest 5G mobile operator. China Mobile takes that honor with nearly 7 million subscribers in two months at the end of 2019. But SKT ended 2019 with over two million 5G subscribers since launching its service in April 2019. Combined with the other two South Korean mobile operators, South Korea has achieved 5G coverage of nearly 50 percent of the population — five million subscribers and now carries over 20 percent of the mobile data traffic over its 5G networks.

The pace of 5G deployment is accelerating and operators globally are racing to win with 5G. At the end of 2019, GSA reported 61 commercial 5G networks in 34 countries with 348 more operators in 119 countries announcing 5G investments. SK Telecom has been the industry leader in rapid 5G deployment and innovation.

A10 Networks provides highly scalable 5G security solutions for cloud-native network scenarios using automated intelligence and machine learning. The A10 Networks Orion 5G Security Suite includes a carrier-class firewall, DDoS mitigation and detection, carrier-grade networking and other functions that can all be deployed in physical, virtual, bare metal, and container form factors for 4G, 5G-NSA, MEC and 5G SA.

Terry Young
February 26, 2020

Terry Young is Director of 5G Marketing at A10 Networks. She is responsible for developing programs and marketing material that describe business value of A10 solutions for mobile… Read More