In my previous blogs in this series I discussed what smart networks are and the benefits they can bring. I then moved on to some of the risks, challenges and issues associated with moving to “smart”.
In this, my final blog in the series I will discuss what is required from a modernized communications network to counter some of these risks, challenges and issues.
Firstly, the communications network is required to connect the sensors embedded in the network to the control and knowledge systems driving the smart network. However the communications network can also play a key role in smoothing the evolution to “smart”.
Reducing the complexity of multiple systems and technologies
Use of a multiservice, technology aggregation platform at the point of access can help reduce complexity and control costs. This converged access aggregation platform should have the ability to aggregate all the data received from all of the various sensors, regardless of the access technology used. In addition, some services require dynamic packet transport, others require highly deterministic behaviour, and the transport network should be able to use deterministic or dynamic packet transport as required on a service by service basis.
Point of access security to make network devices more secure
The converged access aggregation platform is located at the point access to the network, this is an ideal location to isolate the network devices from the rest of the network. At this point it makes sense to instigate firewalls, intrusion detection and intrusion prevention functionality. In addition anomaly detection capabilities can be added ensuring the network devices are operating as expected. As attacks evolve so do firewalls, IDS/IPS and anomaly detection software, so it makes sense to have these capabilities softwarized. If security software, or virtual network functions (VNFs), are loaded onto NFVi hardware and embedded in the telecoms platforms at the point of access, this make upgrading the software simpler. That way as the software evolves it is simple to update all the VNFs that hold all of the security functionality
In addition, to stop man in the middle type attacks, it makes sense to encrypt the data at this point, before it is transported across the network.
Network segregation to reduce the risk of one comprised system impacting other systems
This is slightly more complicated, but slicing technology designed for 5G transport networks can now help. With network slicing virtual networks are created across a single physical transport network. The level of isolation required can be programmed. In softer isolation options, services are isolated from each another, but in the extreme a very overloaded service could potentially impact the performance of the network elements and hence the other services. In harder isolation options, there is full segregation between the services, so there is no way one service can impact another.
Robust systems and segregated control paths reduces the risks of interlinked systems:
Using a communications that is highly reliable with mission critical availability and software restoration capabilities can ensure that the communications network does not add to the risk of one system failing affecting other services. In addition, using slicing to segregate the control communications will at least ensure that the control information is passed through the network even in the event of a failure.
Low latency feedback provides real-time control loop for automated systems:
To reduce the risks associated with automated systems a real-time feedback loop is required. The communications network can provide this with accurate, low latency communications between sensors in the network and the automated systems. Again slicing technology helps provide this, all network conditions.
Evolution to smart systems are inevitable as the benefits they bring vastly outweigh any risks associated with their introduction.
However, it is also clear to me that a programmable, sliced, multiservice, communications network is required to provide optimized secured communications between the smart devices and the control networks driving the smart systems. With this next generation communications network in place, the risk involved with the evolution to “smart”, can be greatly reduced.