The 5G Security Test Bed (STB) will build on the CTIA’s existing Cybersecurity Working Group, offering members an environment to test 5G security use cases

Since 5G was first conceived many years ago, one of the technology’s major selling points was its increased security compared to 4G and older generations of mobile technology. Now, some years after widespread deployment, this premise has largely been proven true for commercial networks, partly through the ability of 5G to encrypt more data, but also via the nature of its architecture itself, being more software and cloud-based and thus allowing for better monitoring of security threats. 

However, in an ever more digital world with mobile data traffic and the number of connected devices increasing, new threats to 5G networks are emerging rapidly. 

Now, in an effort to meet these challenges, the CTIA, a US trade association that represents the country’s mobile communications industry, has announced that it will launch a new 5G STB.

The founding members of the STB are AT&T, Ericsson, T-Mobile, UScellular, MITRE, and the University of Maryland. 

The roles that these initial members are relatively self-explanatory; AT&T, T-Mobile, and UScellular are three of the largest mobile operators in the US, all of whom are already working with Swedish vendor Ericsson for 5G networks in various forms. The STB site itself is situated in a laboratory at the University of Maryland, with the core network hosted by MITRE, a not-for-profit R&D company based in Virginia.

Verizon seems notably absent from this founding ground, especially since they sealed an $8.3 billion 5G deal with Ericsson just last year and are also part of CTIA’s Cybersecurity Working Group.

The STB will be used by these players to collaborate in developing 5G security solutions, as well as testing their existing security against potential threats being explored by researchers.

For now, the site will focus on non-standalone 5G, using a 4G core, only moving to standalone architecture (i.e., using a 5G core) later in the year.

The work will primarily focus on verifying the recommendations of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s Communications Security Reliability and Interoperability Council (CSRIC), the eighth iteration of which launched in June last year. 

"This initiative will complement and bolster the FCC’s 5G security efforts, validate its recommendations, and demonstrate 5G security features, with cross-industry groups working collaboratively to test use cases and products on an actual 5G network using real-world hardware and software," said Tom Sawanobori, SVP and CTO of the CTIA.

In related news, 5G is currently at the centre of a regulatory clash in the US, with the Federal Aviation Association (FAA) and the airline industry pushing the US operators to delay their further rollout of 5G over fears that they could interfere with vital aviation equipment. 

In recent months, the CTIA has accused the FAA and aviation industry of “fearmongering”, noting that 5G in the same spectrum had been deployed without disrupting flight operations in numerous other markets around the world.

On January 4, Verizon and AT&T both agreed to delay their rollout by a further two weeks to allow more time for 5G’s impact on aviation to be explored. Last week, the FAA announced that 50 US airports will have 5G buffer zones, prohibiting the use of C-band 5G in their vicinity. 


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