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Multimedia data and 5G drive network transformation

Emerging networking trends and touted innovations always showcase faster speeds and new use cases. Yet, new challenges keep pace, too, such as security and privacy issues.

As technology has advanced over time, networks have adapted with it to support new forms of data -- such as multimedia and voice data -- and new generations of technology, including 5G.

With shifting data priorities and innovations such as 5G, network transformation is a matter of when rather than if. Networks must transform to support the new generation of cellular technology, especially with the automation and real-time monitoring capabilities it brings. 5G's network transformation will be dramatic yet gradual, according to author Annabel Dodd, but 5G must overcome several challenges along the way.

In her book The Essential Guide to Telecommunications, 6th Edition, Dodd explores advances in broadband and spectrum availability, as well as the foundations for cellular and Wi-Fi networks.

Editor's note: The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How have telecommunications and networking transformed since your first edition of this book in 1997?

Annabel Dodd: The first edition talked about the Telecommunications Act of 1996. There were landlines, people were concerned about bills, and there wasn't much on the internet. Then, we started talking more about mobile networks. I've always included an industry overview, but when I first started, the industry and the structure of phone companies were completely different.

Annabel DoddAnnabel Dodd

Some [big changes] now are mainly wireless, machine learning and the structure of the industry, and streaming was huge.

I hate to prognosticate on what's next because the trends are that everything's faster. One important thing is the network is carrying much more voice and data. When I first started writing, I was pretty much talking about voice. Now, I'm talking about data, and voice has become a bit boring.

How have networks transformed over time due to new forms of data?

Dodd: The biggest change is the addition of more fiber optic cabling in networks. The second thing is voice used to be carried differently than data. Now, everything is data, even if it's voice, video -- there are many more types of media.

The Essential Guide to Telecommunications book coverClick here to learn more
about this book.

Now, there's more automation. If you're in a company that's all white collar, changes will be more subtle. Maybe you'll use 5G if the fiber to your building crashes; you can back up everything using 5G. If you work in a manufacturing company, then you've got more important changes because factory automation is going to get much better with 5G.

Another place there's a lot of potential for 5G is healthcare. That's tricky because companies are talking about monitoring somebody's health, their blood pressure or if someone's taking their pills. Those are difficult privacy issues in healthcare.

What can organizations do prior to adopting 5G to prevent some of those security issues?

Dodd: [Security is] a massive change I've talked more about in the last few books, and it becomes more of an issue as we go along. As the world gets smaller, we all use common protocols, so people know more about how to hack into a system. There are more computers and more places for people to be hacked. Those are ongoing issues. Try to keep one step ahead.

This is because of the pervasive availability of LTE, but 5G is going to gradually be more prevalent. It will always be a contest between the hackers and the hackees. To prevent this, you can build safeguards into phones used for business -- first, they should only be used for business. And then you can make sure the security software is on your laptop, your tablet, your phone, etc.

An important threat is insiders. Intellectual property is critical to an enterprise and keeping that secure is critical -- particularly with cellular.

What other challenges do you expect 5G to have?

Dodd: 5G devices are going to use a lot more power, so batteries become an enormous issue. They burn up battery quickly. In a way, it'll promote the development of battery because people in the industry are concerned about that.

Other than battery life, the switching between LTE and 5G is where a lot of failures are occurring now. That will resolve.

Another issue is the uplink from your business or your home to the cloud or to wherever you're transmitting. That has traditionally had less capacity than the downlink because you're used to downloading or streaming things from the cloud or from your company remotely.

Another big challenge is there isn't enough 5G spectrum right now, and that's going to take a while to build out and connect all those small little towers and heterogeneous networks together. The spectrum should be available in a couple of years, but then you have to build all the towers and use it. So, this may take gradually to the mid-2020s to figure out.

This was last published in September 2020

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