You, me and 5G: How IT pros can benefit from new levels of interconnectivity

(Image credit: O2)

5G is finally here—kind of. The word on the street is that higher bandwidth delivered at lower latency offers huge potential. To put that potential into context, 5G's predecessor—4G—has a current maximum download speed of 100 Mbps. 5G can deliver 10 Gbps; download speeds 100 times faster than 4G. In real terms, companies stand to benefit from unprecedented customer insight gleaned from real-time data beamed from connected devices.

The appetite for adoption is clear: according to Gartner, 66 per cent of organisations plan to deploy 5G by 2020, while 59 per cent intend to include IoT communications with 5G. With this use case, the reality is that many enterprises are underprepared to cope with the new levels of data that will need to be captured, shared, analysed, and stored in near-real time if its benefits are to be realised.

Organisations need to future-proof

To achieve the kind of response required to benefit from these new opportunities, enterprises want to share, replicate, and integrate data across departments in near-real time. Organisations won’t be able to simply rely on existing data networks or architecture. They’ll need to store data for longer timeframes to support other technologies that go hand-in-hand, like machine learning and historical analysis used by artificial intelligence (AI).

By its nature, the Internet of Things (IoT) is distributed—physical and interconnected devices spread across a factory, a city, or an entire nation. The problem is, most legacy applications aren’t made for this kind of distributed data. As data enters an organisation, it has to be instantaneously managed and stored across cloud, hybrid, or on-premises applications. This drives the need for an infrastructure that’s equally highly distributed, with 24/7 uptime to support troves of master and operational data.

Competitive edge

Any kind of lag in transmitting information for real-time decision-making can be problematic. In telemedicine, for example, the consequences are extreme and can lead to a life-or-death situation. Likewise, autonomous vehicles waiting for information at a busy intersection cannot tolerate any kind of data latency. So, it comes to IoT, real time really means real time.

But if data is traveling hundreds or thousands of miles to a cloud data centre, latency is a very real possibility. Edge computing solves this problem by placing micro data centres just outside the network at the so-called “edge.” These micro data centres place compute and analytics power as close to the action as possible, enabling real-time decision-making. The data that doesn’t have to be processed immediately is routed to a cloud data centre for later use. So, how does all of this relate? Cars are IoT endpoints, black boxes at crossroads are edge computing points, and the communication is secured via 5G.

Context is everything

Without the ability to instantly analyse and act upon data in context, very little can be gained from what 5G has to offer. For example, knowing a plane is cruising at 10,000 feet isn't very useful, unless you know it was at 36,000 less than one minute beforehand. This contextual analysis is vital if your business is leveraging IoT. To do this, data needs to be processed centrally. While edge computing can provide superficial insights, it’s not capable of providing context-rich data insights. So, while there’s a clear need to be prepared to collect data from distributed sources, there’s also a need to manage and act upon it centrally.

Security

The best way to get a handle on connected devices is to use a set of comprehensive network monitoring tools—this will help itemise everything currently connected to the network and provides details about the state of the connectivity. Consider using tools that also provide additional information where required, for example a view into who’s connected, when they connected, and where they’re connected.

Beyond network monitoring, it’s equally important to understand what those devices are doing relative to what they’re supposed to be doing. For example, if a network administrator sees that a 5G connected environmental sensor isn’t acting like a sensor—but, instead acting like a far more complex information-sharing node—that’s a dramatic red flag. We’re far beyond the point of device identification. We also need to focus on device behaviour.

The security risks introduced with 5G aren’t new, but based on the facts of real time and the distributed deployment, are a little bit more challenging than before.

You still have time

While 5G promises one of the biggest leaps in cellular data speeds yet, it’s being rolled out in a similar way to previous generations, beginning in major cities and slowly rolling out to national and global coverage. Even by 2025, the Global System for Mobile Association (GSMA) forecasted that 5G will still only have reached 14 per cent of the global market. With this in mind, we can expect low frequency will be deployed first, but there will be a time delay, similar to when we all bought phones with LTE capabilities years before the benefits were fully available.

5G and the IoT bring massive possibility, but also significant complexity. To cope with this, organisations need to find new ways to be more efficient, use data to provide better service, and gain a competitive advantage with your technology. So, with some time left, what should you be doing now to better fortify current and future operations?

  • Have a clear view of everything happening on your networks. If the IT team doesn’t have the ability to accurately track and manage IP addresses and conflicts, domain names, user devices, and more, they won’t be able to know if or when a bad actor is exploiting their networks. You must be able to tie events on the network directly back to specific users or events. This strategy also helps in evaluating the new devices on the network to confirm they’re operating properly and securely. In other words, if you lose the visibility of connected devices today, it’ll only get worse with the IoT apocalypse in the future.
  • Have a clear view of everything happening on your networks. If the IT team doesn’t have the ability to accurately track and manage IP addresses and conflicts, domain names, user devices, and more, they won’t be able to know if or when a bad actor is exploiting their networks. You must be able to tie events on the network directly back to specific users or events. This strategy also helps in evaluating the new devices on the network to confirm they’re operating properly and securely. In other words, if you lose the visibility of connected devices today, it’ll only get worse with the IoT apocalypse in the future.
  • Find the positive in potential intrusions. Intrusions can help IT pros evaluate and refine remediation strategies, and automated network security solutions can learn from the breach to offer protection for the future.

5G is here to stay, and the number and types of devices that will connect to the network will continue to increase. There may not be a single, simple way to manage and secure the IoT, but following the above three steps will certainly be a solid start.

Sascha Giese, Head Geek, SolarWinds