Secure and reliable connectivity has become an absolute priority as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to prompt business and individuals to do more online.
It remains a high-stakes time for telcos. As the connective lifeblood for legions of new home workers, they are under an intense spotlight: home broadband services are now in almost constant use. The housebound need to trust telcos will keep them connected to services, colleagues, loved ones, and entertainment. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve seen organizations across the world pulling out the stops to upgrade things like their SSL VPN (secure socket layer virtual private network) access systems, as their entire workforce now looks to login to the corporate IT system remotely.
Now that almost every meeting takes place virtually, robust carrier-grade services are more in demand than ever. Both consumers and companies are looking for secure connectivity, reinforced with robust authentication systems.
Telcos will also need to become more flexible as they seek to deploy and optimize applications securely in a multitude of cloud computing environments – whether it is public cloud, private cloud, a central data center, or an edge data center.
As this shift inevitably picks up pace and adapts to changing circumstances, some telcos may, for example, build private content delivery networks to ensure their Internet Protocol television (IPTV) services and third-party entertainment content are readily available to a large customer base. All without congesting their backbone network. At the same time, edge computing is already pushing certain applications and services, such as mobile gaming, closer to end-users, enhancing the user experience and the reliability of the services, including reducing network latency, increasing bandwidth and delivering significantly faster response times. Another key telco priority is to tackle soaring instances of cyber fraud, many of which are now using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to deceive.
As a case in point, Shape Security, which was acquired by F5 in January, recently found that 99% of login attempts for one large service provider’s customer portal were automated (non-human). It is a common occurrence, and one that is driving demand for solutions that separate “good” users from “bad” without compromising user experiences. This may include an ability to identify users via fingerprinting techniques (based on variables like device type, location, and user behavior) to ensure quick and easy access – even in the absence of passwords.
The quest for stability and simplicity
As people work from home and access online entertainment services, telcos are also looking to expand and protect their IPTV services while reducing risks to downtime to an absolute minimum. This calls for robust application delivery controllers and web application firewalls that can both scale IPTV services and keep them secure. On top of that, sophisticated traffic visibility, analytics, and steering capabilities can enable telcos to route traffic based on subscriber type, server availability, and network policies. These are essential capabilities to help improve service availability, performance, and reliability in the most demanding conditions.
As part of the bigger evolutionary picture, we’re also seeing mobile operators increasingly turning to virtualized mobile core and Gi-LAN solutions that use network function virtualization (NFV) for a simpler and more stable means of implementing policy enforcement, firewalls, and control over application delivery. A virtual firewall, for example, can play a critical role in protecting mobile networks from dedicated denial of service attacks that can bring them down. Recent evolutions in the server networking industry also provide the ability to offload volumetric DDoS mitigation to a SmartNIC, keeping the CPU in the virtual firewall available for more advanced processing tasks.
It is worth noting that, while automation is one of the key pillars of NFV, it was only during the COVID-19 pandemic that people really started to realize the technology’s true value. When physical access to telco sites is difficult, the ability to remotely control, manage and provision network services in a software-defined way is proving a major advantage.
As a sign of things to come, F5 partnered with Rakuten Mobile, Inc last October to support the company’s launch of the world’s first fully virtualized, cloud-native mobile network and its future deployment of 5G. The carrier is leveraging network functions virtualization (NFV) capabilities to optimize its new mobile network and accelerate its path to 5G services. It is also using F5’s N6/SGi-LAN solution to virtualize multiple functions, including carrier grade network address translation, its firewall, a transparent cache for the domain name system and IP traffic optimization.
By consolidating many different functions in a single solution, Rakuten has significantly simplified and stabilised its network architecture using a single vendor (rather than five or six providing different capabilities). More broadly, the radical cloud-based and virtualised architecture being deployed by Rakuten points to how telcos can, and indeed should, double down on their traditional brand values of reliability and dependency.
We are in an era where online working and entertainment is the dominant option. Reducing infrastructure complexity, while protecting every aspect of the application data path will be critical to counter online fraud, prevent service disruption and maintain customers’ trust. The message is clear. Simplicity and security are the watchwords of the future.
- Bart Salaets, Senior Systems Engineering Director at F5 Networks.