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Why beams of light can solve the network security risks of 5G

The potential for optical wireless communications to augment the inadequacies of radio frequency

By Michael Abad-Santos, Senior Vice President of Business Development and Strategy at BridgeComm

The rapid increase in 5G network connectivity is not without cybersecurity risks, particularly as it expands in use with IoT devices. The susceptibility of these networks is partly due to the complex web of technologies, infrastructures and operations that make up 5G. Bad actors can gain access and destabilize an entire system merely by hacking a connected sensor or an application programming interface (API), as was the case in the SolarWinds affair. Considering the sheer expansiveness of IoT devices - from smart cities to doorbells - 5G security risks will have societal-wide impacts. Moreover, while radio frequency (RF) remains the standard for wireless communications, IoT network signals and the sensitive information they carry, which can often include payment-related data, will be vulnerable to interception and potentially decryption. 

Resolving the Network Security Issues of RF and 5G

Winning the shadow arms race of cybersecurity necessitates that security schemes constantly evolve. Unfortunately, this arms race won't end when one side taps out; as long as there is sensitive information, bad actors will try to steal it. Outwitting threat actors and resolving the network security issues of RF and 5G network communications will require a more secure method, one that works to avoid the base signal from ever being intercepted. Such a method exists through optical wireless communication (OWC), which has cost-effective solutions and services that support the demands of end-users for data, speed and security, while also possessing high-throughput connectivity across space, air, land and sea domains. 

What is OWC, and why is it a better alternative to RF

OWC uses lasers to send information to intended recipients through line-of-sight technology. And by transmitting data through precise and narrow beams of light, OWC is extremely difficult to intercept and nearly impossible to detect. Although OWC sounds like something out of a science-fiction movie, it is a veteran technology of the private sector and a burgeoning resource in the commercial sector, serving for decades as a critical tool for NASA in projects such as the Laser Communications Relay Demonstration and the Orion Exploration Mission 2 Optical Communications. Several government agencies in the U.S Department of Defense rely on its relatively untraceable nature, and plenty of commercial organizations are looking to OWC for O inter-satellite links as well as space to ground links.

License-free, wireless and unregulated, OWC has a significant advantage over many other communication solutions when considering the ever-increasing cost of 5G RF spectrum acquisition, which recently topped at $81.11billion. OWC is also eye-safe due to its use of low-powered telescopes and infrared lasers in the terahertz spectrum. In addition to its superior security, it is faster and more reliable than RF, already augmenting existing features of RF and fiber. While OWC faces challenges from interference caused by rain, thick clouds and fog, snow and dense pollution, its capabilities have not stagnated but continue to advance with each new industry development and innovation. 

Securing the Future of 5G

Despite the clear security advantages of OWC, it is not a main part of the 5G discussion because of its relative newness to the commercial space. Nevertheless, the problems associated with the insufficient perimeter surrounding the billions of IoT devices and the preference of Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile for RF millimeter wave (mmWave) for backhaul will not get resolved without organizations, both private and commercial, leveraging OMC.



Michael Abad-Santos 

Michael Abad-Santos is senior vice president of business development and strategy at BridgeComm, bringing more than 20 years of experience in the telecommunications and satellite industries with a focus on the government market sectors, both domestic and international. Prior to BridgeComm, Michael served as chief commercial officer at satellite communications solutions provider Trustcomm, Inc. before joining LeoSat Enterprises as senior vice president, Americas, overseeing commercial activities, strategy development and execution in the Americas region as well as government activities worldwide. In addition to helping secure pre-series A investments of $20 million, he helped secure two strategic investment partners and more than $2B million in pre-launch memorandums of understanding (MOUs) for commercial services.

Published Wednesday, July 28, 2021 7:34 AM by David Marshall
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