Get smart: Core vs. edge in 5G networks [infographic]

Fifth-generation wireless technology, commonly referred to as 5G, will be a faster version of the current 4G network capabilities. For a device like a smartphone or a laptop, this means higher bandwidth to stream videos and send files more quickly.

But the upgrades will profoundly change the way data is processed, and that comes with security concerns. With 4G technology, the system’s “core” was the centralized hub of the network that uses computers to sort and process all the data. As long as the core was protected, so essentially was your data. Under 4G, the “edge” of the network — made up of the towers and antennas — was largely separate from the core’s data processing.

5G technology is different.

With 5G, the processing power will be closer to people and their devices. Boosting processing power across all parts of the network makes 5G faster. But this means there will no longer be an “edge of the network,” and the entire network will require as much protection as the core does with today’s 4G technology.

“The previous security distinction between critical and noncritical elements is gone,” said U.S. cyber diplomat Robert Strayer. “You cannot mitigate the risk of untrusted vendors in 5G networks by placing them in the ‘edge’ because there is no distinction between the edge and the core,” Strayer said.

Infographic with cityscapes and text comparing 4G and 5G networks (State Dept./S. Gemeny Wilkinson)
(State Dept./S. Gemeny Wilkinson)

The integrated 5G network will not only control a larger volume of the data flows but will also support critical applications, like autonomous vehicles and telemedicine, raising safety concerns.

That’s why America is concerned about 5G right from the beginning. Untrustworthy countries or actors could gain access into a 5G system at various points, not just through an unsecure core.

As countries come together to establish security standards to protect 5G network users, the United States is arguing that advances in 5G technology make the old distinction between the core and edge meaningless.