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5G needs government to keep it secure

Feb 22, 2019
Unlike previous tech advancements, the adoption of the fifth generation of mobile network standards – known as 5G – is going to be enterprise not consumer-led. Mike Stone explains.

I believe 5G will start by enabling manufacturing’s fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0, and transform sectors including industrial manufacturing, defence, infrastructure and healthcare.

5G is expected to generate a variety of new applications and business cases for enterprises, many of which have yet to be imagined. For example, high-definition video and voice will likely supplant the keyboard as the main computing input mechanism. This would not be possible without 5G as a key enabler, as its power and speed will be needed to manage a new tsunami of data.

But the government has a crucial role to play in allowing 5G and Industry 4.0 to deliver their full potential – not least in ensuring they are properly secure. It is vital that 5G is secured, as it will almost certainly lead to sensors and other devices communicating and making decisions independently of humans. If these decisions are to be trusted, then we must be certain that no malicious code has been injected.

The first generation of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies had little or no security – the perceived threat was small, and it was prohibitively expensive and difficult to introduce into small sensors. Sadly, cyber-attacks by both state actors and criminals have shown that there is a very real risk which must be addressed.

5G needs government for governance

While 5G will not be controlled by governments, it can’t happen without them. Some government agencies will have a role to play in opening access to 5G, which allocates devices a specific slice of a network rather than sharing bandwidth. This makes it potentially viable for facilities such as military airfields to securely share bandwidth with civilians. In some countries where commercial networks do a poor job of serving rural areas, providing access to military connections could significantly help to connect remote communities and bridge the digital divide.

More broadly, 5G will disrupt public sector agencies and companies in ways that will require governments to regulate. It will allow more use of augmented and artificial intelligence but may need rules on what decisions can be delegated to machines and when humans need to be ‘in the loop’, particularly in the military environment.

Securing 5G networks

Security is fundamental to 5G’s success and this may be where government interventions are most important. As discussed, IoT devices based on earlier wireless standards are notorious for poor security. It is now possible to fit more processing power into tiny devices, meaning 5G has the capacity to provide security at the network level.

5G holds huge promise for a range of industries. But while this is a technology that will be led by enterprises, it will only succeed if governments set industry-specific regulations and ensure devices and networks are well-secured.

Mike Stone is the Global Chair of Defence and National Security & Global Head of Technology Transformation for Infrastructure, Government and Healthcare at KPMG International.