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Erlend Prestgard on Mobile Core Networks and Telco 5G Security

In the “5G: Secure What Matters” blog post series, we showcase thought leaders and their unique perspectives on the intersection of 5G, security, and technology. We recently sat down with Erlend Prestgard, CEO of Working Group Two to get his views on 5G and 5G security.

Tell us about yourself?

I am Erlend Prestgard, CEO of Working Group Two. I have spent a number of years in and around the telco industry, and together with Werner, my co-founder, we decided to go all-in on opening up the telco industry to innovation again. To do that we are rebuilding the mobile core network, offering it as a service, making it programmable to the outside world, and creating a marketplace for developers and partners to monetize their work. We think the era of fairly closed and isolated networks needs to yield to more open and cross-network models.

What do you think 5G means for the future of mobility?

Together with a few other trends, especially the release of spectrum, I think we will see many more, smaller networks being deployed for more purposes. The structural cost and complexity of launching new networks has fallen dramatically, and with access to spectrum increasing, I believe we will see orders of magnitude more networks than we have today. It is not strictly speaking 5G-dependent, but it coincides with 5G. This is perhaps the bigger trend – a higher number of more diverse networks deployed for more purposes.

I am sure 5G technology itself will drive additional uses cases as well. The promised low-latency, high-bandwidth use cases will show up over time, but I think they will be very selectively deployed in the short term. For regular smartphone use, I think the impact will be very gradual. The willingness to pay for 5G vs 4G is going to be limited. In other words, the impact of 5G will be slow, but relevant over time.

We see 5G as an evolution, not a revolution. It is important and it matters a great deal, but it does not change things over night.

What challenges do you see in 5G security and 5G deployments?

Overall, I think security in 5G is improved, part of it simply by leveraging more modern protocols and practices. To my earlier comment about the likelihood of many new networks being deployed for many new use cases, that will have follow-on effects for security. So, we will see many more networks that are much smaller and with a wider range of vendors. In totality, having good security in this scenario means being able to scale down for small deployments and handle much more interaction across more open interfaces and vendors. In addition, new use cases might increase the attractiveness of attacking some networks.

Our model is to deliver our core network in a software-as-a-service model. We have also built our system to make adding “Gs” a reasonable undertaking. This allows us to add the necessary protocols and interfaces and enable 5G use cases in a controlled, step-by-step manner. Offering core networks in DevOps mode gives big advantages in making these transitions smooth, and allows for security to be scaled up and down according to the size of deployment.

What are some of the top 5G security challenges?

I think every G adds new security strengths and weaknesses. I think the biggest issues with telco security is actually more related to the fact that standards are deployed infrequently, while those attacking the security operate in much shorter cycles. For the biggest threats, a new G might be necessary. This is a problem for all Gs though – not specifically 5G. Industry collaboration will be crucial here, along with rapid evolutions of standards to plug holes. Operating networks as-a-service will be a factor here as monitoring and securing networks can be done in more agile ways.

What’s the most important change/benefit in what 5G will make for you (or your organization)?

For us, it is all about giving our customers access to the benefits of 5G. Early asks are primarily around fixed wireless access and private networks. Over time, this will transition to enabling 5G for MNO and MVNO users. So, we see benefits in some new select use cases, and in general, higher speeds for regular smartphone users.

What is the top business problem/challenge that you hope could be resolved with 5G technology?

To be honest, as of today, the vast majority of use cases can be handled well with 4G. It will take time for the really demanding use cases related to speed and latency to reach scale. But of course, if you need low latency, going straight to 5G makes sense. The introduction of slicing is also interesting but I think you will often see new separate networks being deployed as an alternative to slicing. The monolithic nature of networks is being fundamentally challenged, and I think part of the use cases 5G was designed for, especially around slicing, will be solved in different ways. Also, the quality determination in a slice has an enormous amount of commercial and operational complexity associated with it. What happens when you fall back to 4G; when you are roaming and so on? So to be honest, the biggest problem it is solving is the long-term challenge of serving high capacity at low cost. The upside, however, is largely in enterprise and new use cases.

In five years, where do you think we will be in using 5G?

I think we will see a very large number of new small networks leveraging 5G. I think we will see MNOs having deployed 5G coverage for significant parts of their territory, but still lacking complete coverage. We will start seeing slices and we will have seen the first set of truly 5G-dependent use cases.

About Erlend Prestgard

Erlend Prestgard is the CEO and co-founder of Working Group Two, which aims to make traditional mobile telecom services better and more relevant. The company does this by deploying internet tools and technologies on top of traditional mobile telco infrastructure. For more information, please check out the Working Group Two website and Erlend Prestgard’s LinkedIn profile.