Published on April 20th, 2021 | by Dr. Keith Bhatia & Syed Hussain
The introduction of 5G, high bandwidth services, and new applications mark a new, intensive era of cloud adoption by communication service providers (CSPs) for their 5G networks. This shift is needed for enhanced flexibility and cost-effectiveness to accommodate 5G’s increased data sizes and diverse usage and implementation models. To realize the elasticity potential of cloud deployment, network functions will need to be virtualized with a micro-service architecture and be modular. When this framework, networks can quickly be deployed and scaled on-demand using orchestrated containers.
The vision for 5G Stand-Alone core is that applications and services are all cloud-native. However, the reality is it will be a gradual transition for that vision to come to fruition. Most CSPs will operate with some combination of legacy and cloud resources for some time, often including the continued use of the 4G core. Even as an evolution toward an all-cloud future continues, lawful intelligence solutions must operate in real-time or near real-time. While also accurately managing data across both cloud and on-prem network resources.
The Transition to Cloud-Native Architecture
The mediation, or interception, component of a modern lawful intelligence solution needs to be completely cloud-native. Thus enabling it to migrate and auto-scale on-demand across private, public, and hybrid clouds using centrally orchestrated containers. While being cloud-deployed, the solution must be capable of intercepting data from communication applications on cloud instances, as well on legacy on-prem infrastructures. This shift to the cloud needs to be transparent from the LEA perspective, with the solution meeting or exceeding the same industry-standard interfaces.
The typical CSP will continue to operate some legacy services on a physical network, making the bridge from the physical to the virtual world architecture a key concern for lawful intelligence agencies. A common approach is for the CSP to access a cloud-based mediation solution to intercept data from its on-prem systems and pass it to the appropriate law enforcement agency (LEA). The converse, using an on-prem mediation solution to intercept cloud-based communications, is difficult. Particularly because of the ability to route traffic from the cloud into the data center. The high bandwidth requirements, make backhauling a high-cost proposition, which is addressed with innovative architectures and points of presence for LEA’s to connect.
In a 5G cloud environment, the mediation solution can integrate with virtual components of the network, such as a virtualized load balancer or software-defined switch. In contrast to their physical predecessors, these elements are dynamically provisioned using containers, which enables the mediation solution to automatically scale up and down in response to traffic levels. The adoption of containers with orchestration and other cloud-native technologies positions CSPs for cost and agility benefits analogous to those achieved by enterprises in the past several years.
Migration as a Force for Standardization
CSPs have the advantage of modeling cloud technology solutions on the shoulders of existing research and development as deployed by enterprises. The communications industry has been able to edit and fine-tune docker and Kubernetes to handle real-time signaling, massive data flows, and other carrier-grade requirements, to handle even greater demands compared to the typical enterprise. Public cloud providers can add additional layers of management, orchestration, and access in order to provide containers as a service (CaaS), such as Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS). Application programming interfaces (APIs) exposed by a CaaS can help standardize both access and tools.
At the intercept level, the interfaces between mediation solutions and LEAs have long been standardized, subject to local laws and regulations. With the advent of 5G, the ETSI and 3GPP bodies are working to standardize the APIs and protocols used for communication between the mediation solution and elements inside a CSP’s network. In addition, data definitions are being specified, in terms of what information is and is not communicated to LEAs, as well as how the data stream is formatted. This progress is in contrast to each manufacturer historically using its own proprietary protocols, which made integration between mediation solutions and networks more difficult. Because ETSI and 3GPP are well recognized globally, these standards are expected to largely replace their proprietary equivalents, reducing intercept and mediation complexity.
The Near-Term State of Cloud Lawful Intelligence
A paradigm shift is underway among CSPs, from a physical network to a virtualized one, and now to a containerized one hosted in the cloud. Deployment may be on private, public, or hybrid cloud infrastructure, potentially incorporating third-party services such as CaaS. As a major catalyst for that change, 5G redefines the entire network in its own right, with entirely new functions and topologies. Pushing data and software to the network edge has the potential to unlock new usage models, reduce congestion and improve quality. This trend also has the effect of making public cloud deployment models increasingly important to CSPs. Finally, 5G dramatically increases the amount of encryption used in the network, the demands for which are particularly stringent in the context of lawful intelligence.
To operate across this transition, lawful intelligence solutions can no longer follow a centralized approach. Mediation can now be deployed in the cloud, to operate wherever it is needed, from racked servers in a CSP data center to the network edge. The accompanying challenges of integration and interoperation with a fast-growing body of network technologies and equipment cannot be addressed by the introduction of international standards alone, especially when those standards are still in flux and not uniformly applied. That reality highlights the value of SS8’s longstanding ecosystem relationships with core vendors such as Nokia, as well as players such as Metaswitch and Oracle. Having integrated with those interfaces for 20 years in many cases and having one of the largest global libraries of interfaces, SS8 is uniquely positioned to keep pace with their evolutions.
Increased throughput, decreased latency, and other advantages—together with enabling a new era of machine-to-machine communication and IoT—have put 5G on track for much faster adoption than 4G. Networks are expected to grow and change at an accelerated pace for the foreseeable future, in a period of high investment versus return. As CSPs build out their 5G infrastructures, the challenges of those requirements can be balanced by the opportunities of adopting forward-looking, modern architectures. With a cloud-native approach grounded in decades of experience and industry relationships, SS8 provides the lawful intelligence solutions of choice for the 5G era.
About Dr. Keith Bhatia
As CEO of SS8, Keith combines his broad technical and market knowledge to advance the future of lawful intelligence. In his tenure, he has positioned SS8 as a leader in a world connected by 5G and shaped by increasing digitalization and automation. Keith is impassioned to show how technology can have a positive impact on our world.
About Mr. Syed Hussain
Mr. Hussain has spent 20 years working in the telecommunication industry and brings significant technical expertise to his role as Head of Product Management for Lawful Interception products for SS8. Mr. Hussain represents SS8 in both ETSI and 3GPP standards bodies and at technology summits.
SS8 provides Lawful Intelligence platforms. They work closely with leading intelligence agencies, communication providers, law enforcement agencies and standards bodies. Their technology incorporates the methodologies discussed in this blog and the Xcipio® and Intellego® product portfolios are used worldwide for the capture, analysis and delivery of data for the purposes of criminal investigations.