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Why 5G is not just another G

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By JEAN PIERRE BRULARD, senior vice president and general manager at VMware EMEA.

2019 has so far been the year of 5G. From 5G enabled folding phones, to surgery conducted on a patient miles away by doctors at Mobile World Congress, early super-fast network rollouts in the US, to the tactile internet and the Internet of Things, and, of course, robots – it seems there isn’t a conversation that doesn’t have a 5G angle to it.

For telecoms operators or communication service providers (CSPs), it’s a time bursting with opportunity – from upgrading capacity to delivering new services, content and interactions in ways previously simply not possible. Using 5G to enable the Internet of Things (IoT) and edge computing, they now have an amazing opportunity that was unimaginable just a couple of years ago.

But it means 5G is at a massive inflection point.  Planning decisions made today will have far reaching financial and operational ramifications for CSPs, from being able to beat competitors to market with new value-added services, to significantly improving the performance and operational efficiencies of their networks.

Yet to think of it as only a telecoms opportunity is to miss the point. Any organisation in any sector that uses networks (in short, everyone) should be planning for the 5G rollout and thinking about how they can use it to achieve their business goals.

It doesn’t matter if they’re operating in retail, logistics, in a city, in a rural environment, in the public or private sector; 5G promises huge opportunities to deliver new services and applications, increase automation and the possibilities this brings, to aiding businesses to engage with customers in ways never previously imagined.

That’s not to say that it’s all plain sailing – as Åsa Tamsons, the head of new businesses at Ericsson, said in an interview with CNN, many still view 5G as just “another network.” It’s an attitude which could make it harder initially for some organisations to make the case for the up-front investment required. Enterprises will need to work to convince both internal and external stakeholders that the costs are justified.

One network, a world of opportunity

So, to answer the question, how is it not just another G? Put simply, 5G delivers much faster speeds, far lower latency and significantly higher density than 4G. 

If we want to realise the potential of the likes of Internet of Things-enabled services, robotics, autonomous vehicles, smarter cities and utility services and break throughs in telemedicine, then each of these elements need to be in play. What, however, do they actually mean?

Speed is relatively straight forward. The 5G example often used is being able to download a high definition film in ten seconds, compared to at best about twenty minutes currently (depending on local broadband services).

Latency is slightly different, reflecting the time required for data to travel between two points. We are in fact talking less than a millisecond delay, which becomes significant for surgery, for example, and combined with speed is also a factor for many gamers who might want to pay for this type of fast, low latency service.

Density becomes significant with the sheer number of devices connected to a network at any one time. We are already in a world where there are more than 23 billion connected devices and growing, with greater mobility and IoT use cases. We’ve all been in situations where speeds drop dramatically as everyone logs in, and as we become increasingly connected, we need networks that can cater for significantly more devices than ever before.

In each of these instances, 5G has the potential to dramatically improve on the performance of existing 4G networks. This can then be used to deliver new services and applications, exactly the level of connectivity the digital world requires.

It could be a hospital serving an area several hundred miles square. As we saw at MWC, a surgeon might use a high performance, high reliability 5G network to perform critical surgery via robotics on a patient in a clinic elsewhere. 5G introduces a concept called network slicing A network slice has technical characteristics important for delivering a particular services. In this case, a network slice could be used to deliver a service with low latency to ensure that actions are taken in real time and without delay, high throughput to ensure quality high-definition images and sound for the surgeon, and high reliability to ensure the service is available for the duration of the operation and that performance is not impacted by other mobile users.

Or take retail. Augmented and virtual realities have long been touted as a way to arrest some of the challenges the sector faces – with 5G’s low latency, they can become mainstream offerings, rather than niche innovations, by easily allowing customers to view purchases in local environments or on themselves.

We’ve all heard seemingly fanciable ideas of deliveries by drones, conjuring images of swarms of pilotless objects floating around. With 5G it becomes much more than just an unnerving vision. With high density, networks will be able to support huge numbers of aerial vehicles while enabling remote operators to coordinate movements and avoid collisions along the way. The knock-on benefits would mean less congestion, particularly in urban areas, as well as reaching far-flung locations previously lacking the infrastructure to support all deliveries.

To deliver all this is going to require a significant amount of investment in network infrastructure. For CSPs, it is a major undertaking, which is why it is likely that rather than a pure 5G network, the majority of people will see a blended approach, where 4G is available to deliver basic services, and 5G introduced for specific tasks. It is therefore critical to have what’s known as the telco cloud. This is software-defined technology that supports both current 4G and lays the ground work for 5G, something much prized by operators like Vodafone. “The ability to be flexible and agile as we continue to automate our network operations and management could only be achieved through a software-defined infrastructure,” said Johan Wibergh, the group’s chief technology officer. “We have been pleased with the accelerated time-to-market and associated economic benefits of our transition to NFV and, increasingly, a telco cloud infrastructure.” 

With 5G, enterprises can access the levels and speeds of connectivity they need to take advantage of the game changing technologies such as IoT, edge computing and AI that are going to shape the next stage of the digital revolution. Combined with this software-defined infrastructure, more in tune with its specifications and aspirations, 5G has the power to transform the operations and business models of established organisations beyond all recognition.

Capitalising to thrive

We haven’t even begun to realise what the possibilities of 5G are yet. So much needs to happen before we see full adoption, yet enterprises must start thinking now about how they can harness the power of these new networks for their own competitiveness. Simply thinking about it as another G risks not being prepared when it does come along and missing out on the huge opportunities available.

5G is the network and foundation which makes the promises of many other new technologies a reality – any organisation that fails to capitalise on that will struggle to survive in the digital world.

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Huge appetite for foldable phones – when prices fall

Samsung, Huawei and Motorola have all shown their cards, but consumers are concerned about durability, size, and enhanced use cases, according to Strategy Analytics

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Foldable devices are a long-awaited disrupter in the smartphone market, exciting leading-edge early adopters keen for a bold new type of device. But the acceptance of foldable devices by mainstream segments will depend on the extent to which the current barriers to adoption are addressed.

Major brands have been throwing their foldable bets into the hat to see what the market wants from a foldable, namely how big the screens should be and how the devices should fold. Samsung and Huawei have both designed devices that unfold from smartphones to tablets, each with their own method of how the devices go about folding. Motorola has recently designed a smartphone that folds in half, and it resembles a flip phone.

Assessing consumer desire for foldable smartphones, a new report from the User Experience Strategies group at Strategy Analytics has found that the perceived value of the foldable form does not outweigh the added cost.

Key report findings include:

  • The idea of having a larger-displayed smartphone in a portable size is perceived as valuable to the vast majority of consumers in the UK and the US. But, willingness to pay extra for a foldable device does not align with the desire to purchase one. Manufacturers must understand that there will be low sell-through until costs come down.
  • But as the acceptance for traditional smartphone display sizes continues to increase, so does the imposed friction of trying to use them one-handed. Unless a foldable phone has a wider folded state, entering text when closed is too cumbersome, forcing users to utilize two hands to enter text, when in the opened state.
  • Use cases need to be adequately demonstrated for consumers to fully understand and appreciate the potential for a foldable phone, though their priorities seemed fixed on promoting ‘two devices in one’ equaling a better video viewing experience. Identification and promotion of meaningful new use cases will be vital to success.

Christopher Dodge, Associate Director, UXIP and report author said: “As multitasking will look to be a core selling point for foldable phones, it is imperative that the execution be simplified and intuitive. Our data suggests there are a lot of uncertainties that come with foldable phone ownership, stemming mainly from concerns with durability and size, in addition to concerns over enhanced use cases.

“But our data also shows that when the consumers are able to use a foldable phone in hand, there is a solid reduction of doubt and concern about the concept. This means that the in-store experience may more important than ever in driving awareness, capabilities, and potential use cases.”

Said Paul Brown, Director, UXIP: “The big question is whether the perceived value will outweigh the added cost; and the initial response from consumers is ‘no.’ The ability for foldable displays to resolve real consumer pain-points is, in our view critical to whether these devices will become a niche segment of the smartphone market or the dominant form-factor of the future. Until costs come down, these devices will not take off.”

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New exploit exposes credit cards on mobile phones

Check Point Security has found that handsets using Qualcomm chipsets that hold credit and debit card credentials are at risk of a new exploit.

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Now it’s more important than ever to update your phone.
Check Point security has found a vulnerability in mobile devices that run Android, which allows credit card details to be accessed by hackers.

Mobile operating systems like Android offer a Rich Execution Environment (REE), providing a hugely extensive and versatile runtime environment, which allows apps to run on the device. However, while bringing flexibility and capability, REE leaves devices vulnerable to a wide range of security threats. A Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) is designed to reside alongside the REE and provide a safe area on the device to protect assets and to execute trusted code. Qualcomm makes use of a secure virtual processor, which is often referred to as the “secure world”, in comparison to the “non-secure world”, where REE resides. 

But Check Point “fuzzed” a “hole” into this secure world 

In a 4-month research project, Check Point researchers attempted and succeeded to reverse Qualcomm’s “Secure World” operating system. Check Point researchers leveraged a “fuzzing” technique to expose the hole. Fuzz testing (fuzzing) is a quality assurance technique used to discover coding errors and security loopholes in software, operating systems or networks. It involves inputting massive amounts of random data, called fuzz, to the test subject in an attempt to make it crash.

Check Point implemented a custom-made fuzzing tool, which tested trusted code on Samsung, LG, and Motorola devices. Through fuzzing, Check Point found 4 vulnerabilities in trusted code implemented by Samsung (including S10), 1 in Motorola, 1 in LG, but all code sourced by Qualcomm itself. To address the vulnerability, the runtime of Android needs to be protected from both attackers and users. This is typically achieved by moving the secure storage software to a hardware-supported TEE.

Check Point Research disclosed its findings directly to the companies and gave them time to patch vulnerabilities. Samsung patched three vulnerabilities and LG patched one. Motorola and Qualcomm responded, but have yet to provide a patch, and there is no confirmation of a release date yet.

Check Point Research has urged mobile phone users to stay vigilant and check their credit and debit card providers for any unusual activity. In the meantime, they are working with the vendors mentioned to issue patches.

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