5G is an evolution not a revolution and it will be years until the full impact of the fifth generation network is realised across both public and private sectors. However, concepts which once seemed futuristic and out of reach are now within our sights and 5G is being touted as the key to unlocking the door to this digital future.
With all the excitement and hype surrounding the network, organisations are in danger of running before they can walk. It is one thing to recognise the potential in the network, but another to ensure deployment will support and build services, rather than compromise security and result in crisis.
We know that cyber-attacks on local government are rife - a freedom of information request by Big Brother Watch found 37 cyber-attacks are launched on councils every minute with successful attempts giving hackers access to a mass of sensitive and personal information. If local government organisations are to reap the benefits of the 5G network, they must plan for how vulnerable they could become when embedding new technology which is so reliant on large volumes of data transfer.
Exploring the unknown realms of 5G
There is no denying the speed of the 5G network - allowing for almost instantaneous data-transfer and high-speed data connections - will be the primary benefit for local government organisations. 5G will pave the way for the design of smarter services, like refuse collections and public transport, and will have a monumental impact on any activity which requires enhanced connectivity, delivering public benefits and potential cost savings.
Let’s take smart refuse collections as an example. Through the electronic tagging of bins, the real-time connectivity offered by 5G would indicate when and where bins need emptying within any given area. The high level of transparency in the supply and demand of services will ultimately increase efficiency and streamline costly processes for local government organisations.
5G will also result in a new generation of learning and has the potential to transform education services as we know them today. At the foundation, 5G will bring more reliable and stable internet connections to areas of the UK that suffer from poor connectivity - often rural and isolated locations. Teachers will also be given the power to share rich, virtual and experiential experiences with children, both in and outside the classroom.
Education providers have been well-placed to take advantage of new technologies and in many cases have been early adopters of cloud technologies - some of which have already helped level the playing field for access to education. Centralised information repositories like cloud storage and online modules give students the ability to access information securely, from any location, giving everyone much greater flexibility related to when and where they can work. Cloud-enabled interactive teaching materials will drive a more collaborative working environment, one that is only set to be enhanced by the speed and reliability of the 5G network.
The balance between security and innovation
Enticed by the possibilities of 5G, local government bodies are at risk of overlooking the security concerns which arise with the next generation network. Whether they’re unaware of the security threats at hand, or daunted by the challenge of transitioning from legacy systems and the costs this involves, organisations are neglecting to consider how prepared their security infrastructure is for change. Of course, it would be misguided to let security fears stunt technological progress but as 5G paves the way for a fully connected digital world, local governments will only fulfil 5G’s potential if they have strong foundations in place.
By its nature, cloud technology will invite more threats due to the increased volume of data, and the flexibility of software-defined networking (SDN) and network function virtualisation (NFV), for example, will leave systems vulnerable to attack. Network security measures don’t have to be onerous - unified threat management (UTM), for example, will give government bodies complete protection against a host of incoming threats, removing the need to implement different solutions for different threats.
Taking steps to organise data using encryption is imperative. Creating an impossible maze of navigation distracts and confuses potential hackers and creates a challenging and time consuming process, impeding hackers in their tracks.
In addition to technical measures, organisations can bolster security by instilling a cultural change. Engaging the workforce as a human firewall which is trained to recognise abnormalities in the network should be a priority. There will be an increased security risk without the buy-in of new technology from every person within an organisation. While there may be a temptation to do everything at once, starting small and enforcing a practical and analytical approach will help avoid mistakes which could be avoided.
The scope of the 5G network is really only limited by imagination. The mark of success for local government organisations will not only be in the measure of how it has improved and shaped the lives of people, but also in how efficient its services become. With the network still in its infancy, only time will tell of its true impact.
Iain Shearman is managing director of KCOM NNS