We may be only a short time into 5G deployments, but discussions of the impact 6G technology will have on our lives have already started. In late 2020, the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions created a new group called the Next G Alliance to “advance North American mobile technology leadership over the next decade through private sector-led efforts.”
You have certainly heard of some of the founding members of this organization, such as AT&T, Ericsson, Mitre, Verizon and Booz Allen Hamilton. In other parts of the world, such as in Korea, Samsung Research founded the Advanced Communication Research Center in 2019. Its principal engineer leads the 6G Vision Group at the International Telecommunications Union – Radiocommunication.
What Does 6G Do?
When we talk about 6G, we’re talking about the use of the terahertz (THz) bands, a spectrum that has previously been used in high-resolution health imaging technologies. The technological possibilities are kind of wild: holographic communications, multi-sensory extended reality, 3D coverage, minimal latency and mobile hotspots in lieu of physical towers. The difference will truly be astounding. 5G operates at four to five times the speed of 4G, for a max speed of about 20Gbps, whereas 6G is intended to work at a speed of approximately 1Tbps. That’s 50 times faster than 5G!
The Samsung G6 Vision White Paper gives a sense of what the hyper-connected life could look like by 2030. If history holds true, 2030 is a good estimate for 6G deployment, based on an NTT DoCoMo White Paper that outlines the timing of 3G, 4G and 5G deployments.
Elsewhere, China has openly stated that they want to be the leader in 6G networks and patents, disclosing that Huawei started investing in the technology back in 2017. And countries such as the U.S. and Japan have created investment alliances to keep pace and offer open-source alternatives to country-specific led communication infrastructure. These are all good reasons to draw the conversation into the mainstream.
The Same 5G Challenges, Just a Whole Lot More of Them
With a better sense of what the hyper-connected future could look like, it’s worth looking at the challenges, which are surprisingly similar to the significant ones that come with 5G.
- Manageability. The leap from 4G to 5G meant more data, more bandwidth, more nodes, more endpoints, more alerts and a greater need for orchestration. That’s a lot of “more”, and we can expect plenty more of it with 6G deployments. More of everything, moving faster than ever, presents a significant increase in management challenges.
- Supply chain. If the security operations center isn’t overwhelmed already, increasing supply chain issues (both on the software and hardware sides) will likely get them there. And 6G has every reason to be a supply chain nightmare. A mechanism to certify devices still does not exist, security-by-design development lacks widespread use and even policy and governance issues, such as who is responsible for what (e.g. private sector versus government), have not been finalized.
- Usage. Who really is the consumer in a 6G world? Is it us mere humans, the traditional end-users, or all the devices and artificial intelligence trying to pump out that holographic image for us to gaze upon? Furthermore, are we looking at a possible end to the wired environment? Depending on the number of connections, the attack surface can easily become “everywhere”, and the users can be “everyone and everything”.
Security Realities in a Connected World
The ubiquity of technologies like 5G in our lives poses a question: once these hyper-connected networks go fully online, do they become too big to fail? Consider the following questions:
6G Security and the Human Element
6G presents an opportunity for deep integration of artificial intelligence and networking functions, meaning that the security and privacy functions will also become more closely integrated. Just as all aspects of operations will begin to roll into one, so will risk, security and privacy operations. This truly begs the question: where is the starting point? Do you build your network around zero trust and security principles, allowing the privacy issues to flow from there? Or do you start with the privacy program and then let that shape your security program?
Currently, our operations are set up to protect the enterprise. Your organization’s most valuable currency, data, is still, for the most part, behind the fortress. But in a hyper-connected world, that data becomes further distributed, right down to the individual user and device. Therefore, the future of cybersecurity in a 6G world may no longer be about protecting the business network, but rather protecting the privacy of the individual. Cybersecurity leaders would be wise to focus on protection methods to fortify the individual’s ability to minimize risk, even if machines do end up becoming the ultimate “users” after the 6G revolution.