The growing work-from-home movement amid the coronavirus and its likely continuing challenges has created the need for additional broadband capacity in more places. Mobile telcos and other service providers are rallying around 5G wireless as the most promising solution for reliably faster Internet connectivity.
But the path to rolling out 5G — which is a vague reference to the fifth-generation wireless network technology — has been rocky and spotty. It remains to be seen, at least in terms of consumers’ expectations, how electronics businesses in various sectors can decrease their risk, deliver new products on schedule, and build resiliency into their products. This all takes addressing collaboration challenges and supply chain considerations during the product design phase.
5G networks, now in their early deployment phases, promise to be five times more responsive than today’s networks. Download speed of 20 gigabits-per-second means 5G will enable more specialized tasks at the workplace, according to Saheen C. Najeeb, Digital Marketing Analyst at Fingent, an enterprise software development company headquartered in White Plains, N.Y.
But like anything new in the electronics world, the innovative higher-speed technology is much more complex when it comes to security concerns, he warned.
“As per a research study by Purdue University and the University of Iowa, 5G inherits many security policies and subprotocols from its predecessors, which are more error-prone and thus raise privacy and other security concerns,” he told TechNewsWorld.
That 5G speed bump itself could be worth the heightened security risks to some businesses and consumers if it helps launch a high-speed wireless alternative to wired broadband. Industry reports suggest the pandemic may fast-forward 5G adoption in the U.S.
If it does speed up the deployment process, 5G can have a big impact on overcoming 5G supply chain challenges. Meanwhile, the full implications that 5G holds for WFH across the entire electronics value chain are mostly speculative, some industry watchers suggest.
5G and the FUD Factor
Every technology upgrade comes with two sides. 5G is no different. Developers sing the praises of the better benefits, speed, and flexibility 5G will bring to business and everyday users. Politicians and broadband proponents paint a darker picture. Some opponents to the technology are painting with broad strokes a picture based on fear, uncertainty, and doubt.
Those just switching to remote working are indeed in for some research as they look to improve their home Internet connections, according to Jase Rodley, founder/CEO of Dialed Labs, a marketing firm in Casper, Wyo.
“The problem with the long-promised and long-awaited 5G, and something that will likely stop it flying off the shelves into the houses of people who need it, is the fact that many politicians and officials have sparked rumors and debates about its safety,” he told TechNewsWorld.
As a result, more people are now turning to unconfirmed news websites claiming that China will use them to hack into our lives and learn all of our secrets. This could seriously impede just how quickly 5G is taken on by the general public, he suggested.
Other naysayers take issue with some of 5G’s aesthetic and personal challenges. For instance, 5G will enhance location tracking and personal data collection, Fingent’s Najeeb explained.
“Since 5G signals are short-range, it requires more cell towers covering a much smaller area. It means they know your exact location, which is a piece of sensitive information,” he said. To be clear, however, Najeeb was not stating his personal opposition to 5G.
What 5G Does
The 5G network offers several key points to improve performance over earlier network technologies to help accelerate business capabilities, according to Najeeb. They are:
- To connect more devices faster than is done now
- Reduce the lag time between devices
- Enable the bulk volume of data transmission from a large number of devices with better responsiveness
- Provide higher bandwidth and lower latency
- Make working from home more feasible by providing higher-speed broadband Internet, video conferencing, and other technologies
Having ubiquitous Internet connectivity is great for resiliency and provides functionality that was not available even a few years ago, noted Drew Schmitt, senior consultant at Crypsis Group Crypsis Group, an incident response, risk management, and digital forensics firm with headquarters in McLean, Va.
But enterprise deployments should introduce security evaluations and feedback loops into product development, as well as go-to-market strategies. That will add protection against threat actors who evolve tactics against new opportunities, he suggested.
4G’s Needed Retirement
It is a non-disputed fact that the national broadband infrastructure is critical to keeping businesses running and remote workforces connected during the lockdown and the continuing WFH mandates of the lingering pandemic, according to Jamie Jefferies, Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) vice president at Ciena. His firm provides communications networking equipment, software, and services that power 85 percent of the world’s top 20 service providers.
“This infrastructure must continue to evolve if our economy is going to bounce back,” he told TechNewsWorld. “With more and more businesses using distributed workforces located outside of city centers and central office locations strategies, the acceleration of 5G and fiber rollout must come from a nationwide strategy that benefits all areas.”
In order to expand 5G’s rollout, service providers and the government will need to quickly facilitate new arrangements for digging more fiber into the ground, building radio towers, and developing networks that can intelligently shift Internet capacity to support demand in new locations, Jefferies added.
“This will pave the way for growth and innovation across the nation,” he said of the growing need for a 5G upgrade.
Mobile Needs Push Beyond Fixed Broadband
When 4G was developed, wireless systems were defined by essentially three major vendors. The standards were not open, and connections were established with fixed cabling. Cellular operators sourced equipment from these major vendors, and 4G became a reality, explained Dr. Lauro Rizzatti, consultant at Rizzatti, an electronic design automation (EDA) marketing and public relations firm in the Pacific Northwest.
“With the rise of applications such as connected vehicles — think cars, planes, trains, construction equipment, farm tractors, and so forth — and all the other connected devices that comprise IoT, the data volume for cellular networks has exploded. That spawns the need for 5G and, as everyone knows, 5G networks are being brought up by many carriers in all parts of the world right now,” he told TechNewsWorld.
But there is an important twist in the way the new wireless network is being implemented. This time, cellular operators took control and defined open standards. This allows new companies to build hardware and software required for 5G networks, Rizzatti explained.
5G technology is more challenging to implement than 4G. For example, signal transmission requires an array of up to 64 X 64 multiple-input/multiple-output (MiMo) antennas that can support the beamforming required for 5G signals.
“While WFH creates the need for more broadband capacity in more places, fast-forwarding 5G adoption will only happen if the chips powering 5G are fully tested, and verification, a huge and potentially underestimated challenge,” said Rizzatti.
Chipping Away at 5G Challenges
New products for the 5G market have at their core a mission-critical system on chip (SoC). It is the verification of those SoCs that is challenging, according to Rizzatti. Pre-silicon verification requires more than the standard chip design verification flow.
One challenge is the need to develop robust and reusable tests for these SoCs. This involves solid, deterministic verification suites that can be run before silicon is available on prototypes of the hardware and, after silicon is available, on the real system.
In the pre-silicon stage of chip development, hardware emulation is required to run the requisite number of tests at speed. Once silicon is available, the focus moves to verification of the chip in the lab and in the field.
When these two technologies come from the same vendor, they can be created so both pre-silicon and post-silicon are mapped accurately to resolve problems at any point during design and deployment.
Due to the size of the 5G ecosystem, these verification test suites need to be shared to ensure interoperability, explained Rizzatti. To help alleviate this issue, an alliance of telecom industry companies created the Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN) standard.
Faster Connectivity – With a Catch
5G technology promises increased Internet availability and performance with fewer strings attached. Its infrastructure is significantly less than fiber or DSL, according to Crypsis Group’s Schmitt.
“From a business productivity and continuity perspective, this means that businesses are better able to support remote work in a COVID-19 and post-COVID world, where remote work may remain as more of a mainstay business model,” he told TechNewsWorld.
But it comes with a potential for higher security overhead, he warns. Many businesses are already struggling to keep security prioritized as users require flexible connectivity to business networks from home.
“Security may have some trouble keeping up. As 5G becomes more prevalent and businesses adjust their strategies to include more, perhaps permanent, remote workers, this means that network defenders must be ready to account for this increased surface area,” said Schmitt.
Traditional security measures have always been focused on the perimeter. There it could be controlled with users located in physical locations. With 5G technologies, defenders must also consider endpoint-focused strategies that provide protection for systems that may be connected to the organization’s network or users’ home networks at any given time.
“This becomes even more crucial when we consider IoT devices,” he said.