Paul Eisler

Software at the Core of Network Security

The world is racing toward another digital milestone: 5G technology.

USTelecom members are at the forefront, preparing for faster, more efficient 5G network capabilities – updating the architecture of broadband networks and emphasizing software over hardware.

It is estimated that 5G networks will cover 40 percent of the global population – about 2.7 billion people – by 2025.[1]

With faster speeds and lower latency, 5G will fundamentally change the consumer experience and fuel new and innovative business models.

By improving performance, 5G will make it possible for more devices to run smoothly on the network, expanding the Internet of Things market, and power processes that require large amounts of bandwidth, like cloud infrastructure and virtualization. This also means greater security for the whole digital ecosystem.

AT&T has set the goal to virtualize more than three-quarters of its network by 2025,[2] and Verizon wants to virtualize the core of its network within the next two years.[3]

Broadband providers may not be typically thought of as software companies, but the reality is USTelecom members have been defining the world of software for decades.

Scientists at AT&T’s Bells Labs, for example, invented software languages that are foundational to modern applications, networks and services – whether users connect via the web, the cloud, mobile phones or other devices.[4]

As the number of devices connected to the internet grows to an estimated 500 billion by 2030,[5] everything from wearables to refrigerators to vehicles to airplane sensors to children’s toys will connect to broadband networks.

Today, two complementary software technologies are paving the way for operators to launch new services and enhance cybersecurity.

Software-defined networking (SDN)

SDN resembles a cloud-computing environment. SDN allows operators to control network functions using software, rather than the physical equipment that has traditionally been necessary. SDN architecture can improve network performance and security because it gives the operator a central view, as well as the ability to more easily control data flow and effectively troubleshoot.

Network Functions Virtualization (NFV)

NFV is a technology that replaces multiple hardware appliances with software that runs on standard hardware – essentially making hardware a commodity. Through consolidation, NFV significantly reduces the amount of hardware broadband providers need, while also giving providers the capability to add network functions faster and more efficiently. Cybersecurity functions that can be deployed with NFV include firewalls, intrusion detection, DPI and load balancers, among others. NFV often accompanies SDN because of mutually reinforcing efficiencies.

Everyone – including broadband customers – benefits when the ecosystem of networks, software and devices becomes more efficient. Consumers benefit from competition and innovation in the marketplace because of increased cybersecurity.

The shift toward a software-centric approach to digital investment and innovation is a win-win for consumers and our global cybersecurity.