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Can Secure Network Slicing Bridge the 5G Revenue Gap?


Enterprise-based network slicing business cases offer the early promise of 5G revenue growth. Spirent is working with IBM’s network automation and security technologies to integrate unique network testing programs for secure network slicing of high value, mission-critical applications, with requirements to ensure high levels of operational efficiencies for new service deployments.

New 5G radio is succeeding, with over 700 million subscribers enjoying higher data speeds in more than 70 countries. What mobile network operators (MNOs) have yet to enjoy is the 5G return on investment, which is still pending compelling enterprise use cases. Network performance is a factor, with some saying early non-standalone (NSA) deployments using existing 4G LTE cores is not “real 5G.” As a result, many eyes are now on enterprise-based network slicing business cases to kick off a sustained growth curve.

The GSMA estimates that in combination with other enablers and capabilities, network slicing will permit operators to address a revenue opportunity worth $300 billion by 2025. One of the key enablers and requirements yet to be deployed by many MNOs is the cloud-native 5G standalone (SA) core networks. To accelerate 5G SA network deployments, Spirent is working with IBM’s network automation and security technologies to integrate network testing and validation across Day 0, Day 1 and Day 2 use cases MNOs need to address in 5G deployments.

Fortunately, there’s not just one enterprise basket where MNOs plan to put their eggs. One promising opportunity is secure network slicing for high value, mission-critical applications. Think smart factories, smart energy production, healthcare, and power grids.

For example, hospital MRI machines cost millions of dollars and are critical to healthcare. If connected to a 5G slice instead of an internal network, they can take advantage of 5G’s high level of security and minimize security threats while streamlining IT’s management requirements.

In power grids, sensors and cameras (for example on drones), placed on dedicated, secure 5G slices can be automatically monitored for early detection of wildfires due to downed power lines.

There’s no shortage of potential. However, as the consumer market has so painfully demonstrated, delivering new services doesn’t always result in new revenues.

Enterprises are not all in on 5G. They are hesitant to cede network control, concerned about security and still skeptical that performance claims can match the hype.

At Mobile World Congress in Las Vegas this month, we and our partners are addressing these challenges head on.

Standing up compelling slicing use cases

Spirent, in collaboration with IBM, is helping mobile network operators address the unique enterprise operational and security requirements of 5G network slicing.

Powered by orchestration and intelligent automation, the combined Spirent/IBM solution enables agility and security by automating the provisioning of thousands of network slices with integrated performance and security testing. It provides confidence that 5G network slices can deliver the performance and security required for today’s mission-critical industries while also providing high levels of operational efficiency.

The solution delivers comprehensive, continuous testing and validation for increasingly complex and virtualized, multi-vendor environments, such as the 5G core and Open RAN. Its seamless creation and continuous validation and assurance of secure 5G network slices will foster new revenue streams for network operators.

The joint effort in support of enterprise use cases shows:

  1. The 5G public network (slice + MEC) is a viable option compared to a more costly isolated custom network, and can be as secure, reliable, and performant.

  2. Orchestration and automation can simplify deployment complexity and ongoing operational overheads, providing agility and flexibility while reducing operating costs.

  3. SLAs are easily measurable and transparent, providing a clear demarcation of ownership and responsibility.

  4. Security, fault, and performance management can be highly proactive, avoiding costly downtime.

The goal of our collaboration with IBM is to support MNOs and their enterprise customers with rapid time-to-market and operational agility that delivers competitive advantage, as well as operational efficiencies for reduced costs.

A use case: Automated validation of secure network slicing services

A critical factor in enterprise acceptance of 5G is the automation of security testing. Not only are enterprise 5G slices bespoke, but they involve continuous updates from multiple vendors, all of which open the door to a plethora of security risks. This means testing and validation must be designed into and actively involved in the network and ongoing operations.

Operators must ensure, for example, that new network slices will perform as expected with each use case’s unique security policies and that service changes made in real time will not cause disruption. This requires continuous, active testing in all phases of a service offering so issues are automatically identified and resolved before deployment and during operation in the live network.

A combined IBM/Spirent use case demonstrates how 5G network slicing is provisioned with validation, security orchestration, threat detection and response capabilities, as described in this demo video.

In this use case, network slices are deployed with integrated security controls, including validation of correct detection and remediation based on slice-specific security parameters. This is important because each slice may have different security requirements. For example, when a threat is detected, all communications should be blocked for a slice with potentially compromised bank ATMs, but for a slice with wildfire monitoring cameras, alerts should be sent while the cameras remain operational.

Before slice activation, the IBM master orchestrator initiates Spirent tests to validate the slice’s newly provisioned 5G network functions and applied security policies. Spirent emulates attacks and validates detections, including remediation, through IBM QRadar security information and event management (SIEM), security orchestration automation and response (SOAR), and IBM Cloud Pak for Network Automation (CP4NA) slice orchestration. This process makes it possible to run automated 5G slice function and security tests and assessments as part of an MNOs service activation, and on an ongoing basis when components of the slice are updated.

Learn more at Mobile World Congress Las Vegas

We invite you to attend two Spirent sessions at Mobile World Congress in Las Vegas, where you can learn more about how operators can bridge the gap to increase 5G revenues from new services.

I’ll discuss the benefits of automating 5G network slice security on September 29th in the "5G Network, Fancy a slice?" session at 15:00 PDT.

In addition, Stephen Douglas, Spirent’s Head of 5G Strategy, will present on “What’s Hot In The Connected World” at 11:30 PDT on September 30.

We are proud to help our customers, such as Rakuten Mobile, DISH and Telefonica, deliver on 5G expectations, faster times to market, reduced capital and operational costs, and new revenue streams. Learn about more customer case studies and the race to 5G revenue in our eBook.

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Jurrie van den Breekel

VP, Strategic Partnerships

Jurrie is responsible for Spirent’s technology partner ecosystem in the strategy and corporate development team. In his over 20 years at Spirent in previous roles, Jurrie was VP of business development, product management, customer support, and strategic marketing across multiple Spirent business units and has worked in both the US and EMEA. Jurrie has a passion for developing and driving industry collaborations and is also a founding board member and chairman of the NetSecOPEN nonprofit industry initiative on transparent network security effectiveness, validation, and certification.