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How enterprises will use 5G securely

by maria

By: Nathan Howe, VP of emerging technology at Zscaler

Each generation of mobile technology opensnew possibilities. Before 4G, there was no Uber or Airbnb. 4G has been the era of the app, the gig economy, and digital content consumption. With 5G, many possible technologies may have their day, including various new solutions for the Internet of things (IoT). As enterprises contemplate what 5G will do for them, one thing is clear: they will need to understand how to secure their 5G use.

When employees are distributed and are accessing the internet directly via high-speed mobile connections, the infrastructure securing these connections must be suited to the purpose. The traditional ‘hub-and-spoke’ network that secured applications within the corporate estate becomes out of date. Instead, security needs to sit between users and applications in the cloud.

If they haven’t done so already, enterprises should start planning how they will use 5G now. Its higher speed, together with other beneficial features, will enable businesses across many sectors to work faster and more efficiently. 5G is likely to herald multiple applications of augmented reality, which relies on high-speed video streaming, across a range of industries. Undoubtedly, 5G will open a world of change made possible by its:


5G will be much faster, with peak speeds well above 1Gbps*, placing it within the realm of fibre broadband. For businesses planning to put cables into the ground to improve their speed of access, this begs the question whether they will need to anymore? They may prefer instead to use the high-speed wireless connectivity of 5G.


In comparison to 4G networks, 5G will be very dense. Around 2,000 devices can connect in one square kilometre to a 4G antenna. With 5G, it will be one million devices. For manufacturing, this will equip factories and warehouses to expand connectivity to a huge degree, as capacity won’t be an issue. For smart buildings, multiple devices such as IoT temperature device sensors and door control mechanisms will be able to connect simultaneously in a myriad of ways. These connected IoT devices will exist within dense 5G clusters, occupying a relatively small space, and talking on the same network.


4G connectivity allows for a measurement of distance down to around a metre. What3words, for example,maps locations down to 3m2. 5G allows for geolocation down to 10cm or less. This is game changing as it enables far greater accuracy—something that can be leveraged in the movements of robots and automated services.

Network slicing

Network slicing subdivides a 5G network into multiple segments, with each one assigned a different identity and function. This enables virtual networks within a single 5G network,meaning multiple layers of control and security will be possible. For example, IoT devices could be on one network, and users on another.


5G latency, being the time between asking for something and getting it back, could be <10 milliseconds**. However, even with fast, dense networks, latency will still be a challenge. After all, a device on a 5G network in Germany requesting access to an application that is housed in Australia is still traveling to the other side of the world.

Therefore, latency will be addressed in a range of ways, including edge computing. Edge computing, essentially the next evolution of cloud, brings applications closer to end users. This enables 5G to run compute workloads where users are.

By moving workloads that were previously centralised in data centres, or cloud locations, to where users are, and by running edge computing functionality in those locations, all that needs to be sent back to the data centre, cloud, or 5G carrier is operational metrics. The actual compute will be local. That has a huge impact on the application performance, as well as on how they are ran and executed.

Protecting 5G use cases

Companies will capitalise on the compelling features of 5G by using wireless connectivity where they haven’t been able to before. In turn, 5G implementations will have to be secured.

5G encourages a decentralised, cloud-like model because devices needn’t connect to just one cloud edge or one data centre to access applications; they can connect to multiple values of applications. Security must be applied in the right places and that is ensured through a zero trust model which applies the right access to the right application for the right user.

5G will drive application connectivity through edge computing. Where edge computing brings applications closer to users, security will need to follow. For this reason, protecting 5G use cases will accelerate distributed models of security controls at the edge, along with zero trust and intelligent routing.

Protecting 5G use cases will involve providing security at the edge and filtering traffic in a cloud-like model. This demands a rethink of security and network infrastructure, one that has already been prompted by the movement of applications to the cloud and employees accessing the internet directly from a range of locations—not just within the office. Traffic that migrates to 5G must be secured, regardless if this traffic is generated by IoT or IT devices. That calls for a new security approach, one that accelerates the power of the edge.

* Vodafone
** Ericsson Research as reported in Raconteur

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