Federal Mobility Working Group’s timely framework for 5G testing, security

Agencies and industry alike are at a tipping point when it comes to 5G — now is the time to come to terms with standards, security baselines and testing approaches before everyone creates yet another technology wild, wild west.

Like the federal sector has seen so many times before with cloud services or desktop computers or cybersecurity, by the time there are agreed upon standards or by the time agencies and industry implement them, the time to catch up takes decades.

The Federal Mobility Working Group is trying to stop the horse from leaving the barn when it comes to 5G. It released a framework to standardize the testing of 5G devices, set a security baseline and provide uses cases.

“It’s designed to guide agencies looking to conduct 5G testing to go through a comprehensive set of considerations with insights into current 3GPP standards, projected 5G deployment timelines, existing 5G initiatives and also looks at 5G test beds and labs in the United States. It really identifies the capabilities and elements needed to conduct 5G testing and provides that process to identify current capabilities necessary to look at use cases,” said Serena Reynolds, the 5G initiative lead at the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency in the Department of Homeland Security, in an interview with Federal News Network. “It’s kind of comprised of several elements, one is an end-to-end 5G testing architecture and mapping to 5G, 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) standards, and then also a modular approach that lists all possible testing elements needed for those different use cases. We also included two examples for using the framework to understand the test elements and determine which are needed for the use case. Then lastly, there are performance and security metrics that can be collected with the framework.”

The working group over the last year-plus interviewed industry, academia, federal, state and local government agencies and other experts to receive demonstrations to identify capabilities and determine test bed suitability for use of test labs by the federal government.

“The Federal Mobility Group’s 5G working group and the Mobile Network Security Infrastructure working group visited over 15 labs and test beds of cellular equipment manufacturers, mobile network operators, federal agencies and academia,” she said. “The findings from the test lab visits was initially documented in an internal federal mobility group report. The framework actually builds on the insights gained from those visits, as well as that report and examination of federal 5G initiatives and use cases were gathered via the working group.”

Rising tide of 5G

Reynolds said the framework comes at the perfect time as agencies are starting to come together around securing 5G.

Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed the Secure 5G and Beyond Act in March 2020, calling on the executive branch to develop a strategy for 5G systems and infrastructure. The strategy should address security and protect the competitiveness of U.S. companies.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) released on Jan. 15 the National Strategy to Secure 5G, which is managed by the National Security Council and the National Economic Council, supported by NTIA and outlines four lines of effort as well as plans for research and development, diplomacy and potential legislative proposals.

Add to this the work underway by the Defense Department to implement 5G at bases and commands, as well as CISA’s own effort to secure the supply chain and address cybersecurity assessments, vulnerability assessments to education awareness exercise for this emerging technology. The excitement and activity around 5G is immense.

“I think just across the federal government research and development is really an important component to the success of major programs as 5G is kind of taking a big amount of the attention for the interagency as we look to prioritize security and resilience within our different programs and processes. R&D is an extremely important piece of that and really being able to kind of look forward as technology grows,” Reynolds said. “We can see just in the last 10-to-12 years just how much technology has really advanced and really staying ahead of that really does require sort of this framework that all the agencies can be on the same page and ensure that business operations and mission delivery is all well-coordinated. I think it’s really important to coordinate testing capabilities and testing considerations as we’re looking to the future of where we’re going with 5G.”

FCC opening up more spectrum

The working group highlighted several R&D efforts, including one by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency called the collaboration challenge that helped create Colosseum, an emulator that transferred to the National Science Foundation and is being integrated into the Platforms for Advanced Wireless Research program ecosystem. The working group said Colosseum will be used in the joint spectrum sharing project to explore the use of artificial intelligence to allocate spectrum resources, with an initial focus on maximizing the use of Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum on a live 5G New Radio network.

The Federal Communications Commission and others are trying to open up more spectrum for 5G services. The FCC recently concluded an auction of low-power mid-band spectrum CBRS that 5G devices could run on. The FCC said it auctioned off more than 14,000 spectrum licenses in the upper 37 GHz, 39 GHz and 47 GHz Bands, and the 600 MHz band has been cleared for 5G services.

Reynolds said the framework is valuable for agencies and industry alike no matter where they are in the process of implementing 5G devices.

She said the five-step modular testing process addresses architecture, network, spectrum, applications, propagation, network slicing capability, and multi-edge computing requirements.

Reynolds said the modular approach tries to support the diverse needs of the different federal use cases.

“Given the very unique challenges and considerations of the interagency, I think it’s extremely important that we have that ability to kind of shift testing for different organizations. And the modular elements in the five step testing process identified in the framework are transferable to broader mission areas like artificial intelligence, data analytics,” she said. “AI and advanced data analytics are really going to be an integral part of advancing 5G networks and moving them toward that 6G platform. But the framework will ultimately provide a basis for testing any wireless network inclusive of features, such as AI or data analytics. So this is really meant to be kind of a cornerstone to all R&D and 5G testing capabilities, and really provide that roadmap for where agencies are going to go with this.”

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