5G Security With Betacom

Betacom presented at #XFD6 about doing industrial implementations of 5G and how security works with them.

The industrial use of 5G gets very little coverage outside of super-niche wireless publications which I think is a huge shame, because this is where 5G is actually super-useful. Making regular consumer mobile faster is, to me at least, one of the most boring things about 5G (aside from the conspiracy theories about how 5G helps aliens probe your butt or something, ugh).

5G is much more than “4G, but faster” because of the way the control plane and data plane are separated, and it provides a great way of doing exactly what Betacom talked about: 5G-as-a-Service with end-to-end security.

This separation means you can provide the physical network yourself, if you’re so inclined, but outsource the management of the network to a third party, like Betacom. In fact, Betacom described an additional Monitor Plane used to connect telemetry data to a remote operations centre who can watch for security incidents that they need to respond to.

This kind of separation-of-concerns design helps to provide clear security boundaries that make it easier to reason about how the system should work as a whole. It also helps to make it clear who is responsible for looking after which part of the system, if responsibility is going to be split between multiple parties. A handy side-effect is that it can encourage people to sign up with a provider like Betacom when it becomes obvious just how much responsibility they’ll have to take on if they don’t.

I like that Betacom also lets you bring along existing equipment if you already have some, such as existing CBRS devices, since a lot of prospective customers will already have some sort of wireless networking. It’s a rare customer that is starting completely from scratch with 5G today, though there are plenty that may well decide to do so.

The biggest challenge is still the general lack of device support for 5G, both from the fixed-access point side and from the endpoint device side. It’s one of those slow-ramp things where we need to wait for sufficient cross-industry support for 5G in actual shipping devices you can buy.

It feels like the rollout of 5G network support is happening more slowly than the 3G-4G conversion did, though this is just a general impression that I can’t back up with data. It may be a side-effect of the incredible hype for 5G that went on for years before the standard was ratified, let alone built any devices that supported it.

And that could be part of why I struggled to find any 5G or security special sauce from Betacom beyond a certain amount of experience and expertise in building a managed wireless service for customers. There’s nothing wrong with what Betacom are doing—far from it—but they lacked a distinctive offer that I could clearly point to and say, “There, that’s what makes them special.”

Which is a pity, and I hope it’s just because I missed something. Hopefully as 5G starts to really ramp up its real-world usefulness we’ll start to see more concrete examples of what 5G specifically—rather than wireless networks more generally—provide in terms of better security for customers.

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