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Reliability and security – Why the pressure is on for telcos to deliver

Reliability and security – Why the pressure is on for telcos to deliver

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Mobile technology has transformed drastically and the world is looking to telecoms operators to double down on reliability and security, says Bart Salaets, Senior Systems Engineering Director at F5 Networks.

The pandemic is a high stakes time for telcos. Everyone is online more – a whole lot more. Across the world, whether they are working from home or not, people now have an unprecedented reliance on telcos to keep them connected to services, colleagues and loved ones.

Since the outbreak, we’ve seen organisations across the world pulling out the stops to upgrade technology such as SSL VPN (secure socket layer virtual private network) access systems, as the entire workforce now looks to login to the corporate IT system remotely.

With workers attending video meetings from disparate locations, carrier-grade connectivity is vital. Lagging video calls that jolt and glitch are frustrating for users, and in some cases, are completely incoherent. Both consumers and companies are also looking for secure connectivity, reinforced with robust authentication systems.

Carrier-grade connectivity is vital and telcos are under significant pressure to deliver.. In addition to achieving new levels of flexibility, both public and private cloud, as well as central and Edge data centres must be secured.

Adapting to change

As circumstances continue to change, – some telcos are exploring the creation of private content delivery networks to ensure their Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) services and third-party entertainment content are readily available to a large customer base (without congesting their backbone network). At the same time, Edge Computing is already pushing certain applications and services, such as mobile gaming, closer to end-users, enhancing the user experience and the reliability of the services, including reducing network latency, increasing bandwidth and delivering significantly faster response times.

Another key telco priority is to tackle soaring instances of cyber fraud, many of which are now using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) to deceive.

As a case in point, Shape Security, which was acquired by F5 in January, recently found that 99% of login attempts for one large service provider’s customer portal were automated (non-human). It is a common occurrence, and one that is driving demand for solutions that separate ‘good’ users from ‘bad’ without compromising user experiences. This may include an ability to identify users via fingerprinting techniques (based on variables like device type, location and user behaviour) to ensure quick and easy access – even in the absence of passwords.

As people stay at home and access online entertainment services, telcos will keep looking to expand and protect their IPTV services while reducing risks to downtime to an absolute minimum. This calls for robust application delivery controllers and web application firewalls that can both scale IPTV services and keep them secure. On top of that, sophisticated traffic visibility, analytics and steering capabilities can enable telcos to route traffic based on subscriber type, server availability and network policies. These are essential capabilities to help improve service availability, performance and reliability in the most demanding conditions.

Consolidate and simplify

As part of the bigger evolutionary picture, we’re also seeing mobile operators increasingly turning to virtualised mobile core and Gi-LAN solutions that use network function virtualisation (NFV) for a simpler and more stable means of implementing policy enforcement, firewalls and control over application delivery. A virtual firewall, for example, can play a critical role in protecting mobile networks from dedicated denial of service attacks that can bring them down. Recent evolutions in the server networking industry also provide the ability to offload volumetric DDoS mitigation to a SmartNIC, keeping the CPU in the virtual firewall available for more advanced processing tasks.

It is worth noting that, while automation is one of the key pillars of NFV, it was only during the COVID-19 pandemic that people really started to realise the technology’s true value.

In an NFV architecture, the hardware is decoupled from the software. A common hardware layer (off-the-shelf servers) is leveraged to host a wide variety of vendor-supplied network functions running in virtual machines. These are known as virtual network functions (VNF).

When used optimally, NFV architectures can speed up the enablement of new services and network functions, as well provide near real-time elastic network scaling to reduce total cost of ownership. 

To date, NFV uptake has been slower than expected due to technological complexity and a closely related skill gap. An industry failure to deliver on projected cost benefits early on has also hit confidence levels. On top of that, deploying, patching and orchestrating VNFs from several vendors has proven both difficult and cost prohibitive, if only in terms of sheer compute volume. But when physical access to telco sites is difficult, the ability to remotely control, manage and provide network services in a software-defined way is proving a major advantage. Therefore, it is vital that telcos adopt NFV confidently to keep up with consumers’ increasing need for seamless connectivity.

As a sign of projects and deployments to come, F5 recently partnered with Rakuten Mobile to support the company’s launch of the world’s first fully virtualised, cloud-native mobile network and its future deployment of 5G. The carrier is leveraging NFV capabilities to optimise its new mobile network and accelerate its path to 5G services. It is also using F5’s N6/SGi-LAN solution to virtualise multiple functions, including carrier grade network address translation, its firewall, a transparent cache for the domain name system and IP traffic optimisation.

By consolidating many different functions in a single solution, Rakuten has significantly simplified and stabilised its network architecture using a single vendor (rather than five or six providing different capabilities). More broadly, the radical cloud-based and virtualised architecture points to how telcos can, and indeed should, double down on their traditional brand values of reliability and dependency.

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