Americas Spectrum Management Conference: Industry Standards are Critical to Securing 5G

The transition to 5G can’t be done without industry standards that protect the whole ICT supply chain, FCC Commissioner Jeffrey Starks said at a Americas Spectrum Management Conference panel on October 12.

Prompted by a question from Telecommunications Industry Association CEO David Stehlin, Starks said that on too many occasions security has been an afterthought.

“Best practices and industry standards are a critical step toward securing that supply chain,” Starks noted at the TIA-sponsored  spectrum conference. “The FCC has a real role to play here. As the telecom regulator the FCC has to speak with a particular authority and expertise.”

He also encouraged American ICT companies to get involved in standards setting bodies as a way to make sure those security concerns are being properly dealt with. “Supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” Stark said.

Starks’ statement underscored another idea Stehlin highlighted later in the discussion—5G will bring an immense wave of innovation, but also be inherently riskier.

On the innovation side, 5G promises low latency and high bandwidth, which is essential for innovation, especially when it comes to real-time analytics. For the first time, software will be managing networks and data centers will be pushed out to the edge. This will allow for the use of AI and ML to repair and improve networks over time.

However, one challenge will be allowing for a level playing field, especially as open source becomes more prevalent, according to Stehlin, who was joined in the discussion by moderator Ruth Milkman, T-Mobile Director of Spectrum Policy John Hunter, Dir. Of Spectrum Policy and Open RAN Policy Commission Executive Director Diane Rinaldo.

He noted that open source would be easier for large carriers than smaller ones. Those companies have more resources and talent to deal with the shift. Stitching together pieces of open source technology requires service providers to take on the role of systems integrator.

Rinaldo agreed, saying she’s heard the same concerns, but that smaller rural carriers are taking on the challenge with the help of companies like Cisco, Fujitsu and IBM—longstanding companies that have been around long enough to familiar with the networks and what technology will work best.

On the risk side, Stehlin said an industry-driven global 5G security standard must be developed and that every company in the supply chain must make security an inherent part of their technology deployments rather than just something bolted on.

That will take a shift in mindset that Starks set out earlier in the discussion. Security can no longer be an afterthought.

Later in the week, Colin Andrews, TIA’s director of government affairs, hosted a panel on spectrum sharing and the race to 5G. The session, organized by TIA, included NTIA Office of Spectrum Management Deputy Associate Administrator Peter Tenhula, Echostar VP of Regulatory Affairs Kimberly Baum, Cisco Director of Government Affairs Mary Brown and Lockheed Martin Vice President for Technology Policy and Regulation Jennifer Warren.

Panelists touched on how spectrum sharing is changing and what can be learned from past methods. Brown said that moving forward a couple possibilities have emerged.

In the near term, there are developments around automation that can help keep transmitters far enough away that they can effectively share spectrum. In the future, AI and ML will be key to developing intelligent engines that can sort out when and how organizations can use spectrum without much manual intervention. Not only will this allow for easier sharing, but it will also reduce the amount of spectrum left on the table unused, Brown said.

Warren agreed and noted that we need to be thinking about technologies far into the future when devising new spectrum sharing strategies. This would mean not only shaping the way we share now, but also leaving the room for spectrum to remain viable for the next generation of technology, she said.

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