We’ve been talking about 5G for a long time – so long it almost seemed like the technology would never appear in the real world – but as Australia’s largest telco flexes its infrastructure muscles, electronic security providers need to pay seriously close attention.

ALARM monitoring and installation has survived and thrived in an ecosystem that incorporates huge players and low margin manufacturing and DIY for several reasons. The sector’s focus on security and it’s trustworthiness are a big part of the equation but another factor is that on a global scale, electronic security is almost a cottage industry. There are disadvantages to being a supplier with a small team, comparatively low cash reserves and a limited exposure to the market. But there are advantages, too. The primary advantage is flexibility – the capacity to turn the business model inside out to follow an evolving niche.

Alarm monitoring people are going to need to do some even more supercharged evolving soon, because the infrastructure model is going to be turned onto its head. What we are talking about here is Telstra’s announcement that it now has 5G coverage in 47 Australian cities – well ahead of the 35 cities it had planned to cover by this time. The customer numbers are bigger still – the big telco was intended to cover 4 million potential customers by now, but its infrastructure covers 8 million and will spend another $A500 million on 5G infrastructure by the end of 2020.

There are a few things here – for a start 5G is going to compete with NBN, which can be excellent and frustrating for users, thanks to slow delivering and odd performance characteristics. This competition is going to reduce costs for monster bandwidth services on both platforms. And 5G is coming down the line like an express train – it’s going to get here way sooner than we think and when it arrives, it will offer suppliers and end users a new wireless networked experience where coverage exists. The highest recorded speeds by testers so far suggest just under 500Mbps download speeds and just under 70Mbps upload speeds will be possible.

But while these peak numbers are impressive, it’s 5G over mmWave that’s going to be the real deal. Thanks to it’s high frequency waveform, mmWave has the capacity to carry 4Gbps, and while the spectrum is not up for grabs until 2021, Telstra already has 3 test sites. There are quirks to mmWave that will make its application interesting – its tiny waveforms can’t penetrate buildings, while it’s vast bandwidth makes it ideal to support myriad automation and process control functions within buildings. What this means is that leveraging mmWave 5G is likely to be collaborative.

Elsewhere in the world we are starting to see the releases of security products with 5G functionality – the Connect-XT Alula CAT-m1 cellular card which supports the wireless Simon panel serial automation interface springs to mind. This solution provides sensor status, system status and arming controls, and offers U.S. integrators a 5G-ready fix in the 3G sunset, as well showing the way forward for the ANZ alarms market.

The release of 5G rated security solutions begs a question about security. Software-defined network (SD-WAN) vulnerabilities will be amplified by 5G, as SD-WANs are increasingly used to support mobile and IoT devices. Here, the threat is vulnerabilities in the SDN layers likely to be deployed to support industrial and home automation, self-driving cars, and management of consumer services. The SDN-WAN risk highlights the fact security in a 5G environment must be layered and no layer can be ignored.

Another 5G threat is proximity service intrusions which compromise necessarily simplified device-device communications. The idea of proximity services is a good one – data will propagate in all directions through any network point, lowering latency, maintaining bandwidth and communication speeds, and allowing vital services to be supported with greater redundancy. But bringing edge devices into networks means edge devices must be secure and must be capable of managing their own security real time – that means more processing power and greater power use. There’s something else here, too. If edge devices can support 5G networks in emergency situations, they will be relied on to do so – that creates risk in all directions.

Something else that needs to be covered off is the Authentication and Key Agreement (AKA), which enables 3G, 4G and 5G networks to trust each other. AKA enables a user to shift usage charges to another user. It’s possible to use AKA to find nearby phones and track them. Only an update will resolve these issues.

Stepping into the fray recently, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) announced it was looking for organizations to contribute products and expertise they’ve developed for implementing cybersecurity standards into 5G technology as part of a best practices publications that will assist organizations drafting requests for information or proposals.

“The expected outcome will demonstrate how the components of the 5G architecture can provide security capabilities to mitigate identified risks and meet industry sectors’ compliance requirements,” said a NIST notice in the Federal Register. “Participating organizations will gain from the knowledge that their products are interoperable with other participants’ offerings.

“The proposed proof-of-concept solution will integrate commercial and open source products that leverage cybersecurity standards and recommended practices to demonstrate the use case scenarios and showcase 5G’s robust security features,” NIST said. “This project will result in a publicly available NIST Cybersecurity Practice Guide as a Special Publication 1800 series, a detailed implementation guide describing the practical steps needed to implement a cybersecurity reference implementation.”

We have a few years to go before all this positioning turns into a tidal wave of opportunity but manufacturers, installers, and end users, too, need to start thinking about 5G strategies now. And these strategies cannot be fixed in time and space. If there’s one thing the notion of accelerationism teaches electronic security people, it’s that the faster data moves, the faster our technology changes.

#securityelectronicsandnetworks.com