'Flat IP' mobile networks face new security challenges

Data will flow more freely as mobile communications networks move towards a "flat IP" model, but developers and operators will face new security challenges.

Data will flow more freely as mobile communications networks move towards a "flat IP" model, but developers and operators will face new security challenges, according to engineers gathered at the Freescale Technology Forum in Paris.

Today's centralized, hierarchical mobile networks are overengineered, said Alcatel Lucent's Vice President Network and Technology Strategy Pierre Tournassoud.

Their use of specialized transport protocols makes them complex to design and manufacture, he said. This is good for a few big manufacturers but not for the industry overall, nor for the end user, Tournassoud said in the keynote address on the second day of the event organized by Freescale Semiconductor.

Instead, future networks should adopt the kind of flat IP model towards which fixed-line networks are moving, Tournassoud said. There, the shift has led to a proliferation of so-called "triple-play" services, where operators use DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) to deliver phone calls, television programs and Internet access over the same pair of copper wires, all managed using IP (Internet Protocol).

Vendors approaching the problem from the PC world, such as Intel with its work on WiMax, or the traditional telecommunications equipment vendors working on LTE -- the Long Term Evolution enhancement to today's 3G (third-generation) mobile networks -- are converging on some common technologies.

With this approach, "mobile networks can be made a lot simpler, like Internet platforms for mobile communications," Tournassoud said.

So simple, in fact, in the future mobile phone users could even have their own network base station at home, as operators adopt new technology such as femtocells -- tiny transmitters that improve in-home wireless coverage, plugging into a DSL connection to carry traffic back to the mobile network core over an IP connection.

But with the advantages of IP come some dangers: the Internet is open not just to well-meaning developers but also to all manner of criminals and vandals, and our always-on DSL connections bring us not only voice and video, but also viruses, along with phishing attacks and Trojan horses.

That's why the developers of the next generation of mobile networks are trying to build security in from the start, according to Tournassoud and numerous engineers working for Freescale Semiconductor and its partners that were also present at the Paris conference.

"It requires a very solid, very secure hardware platform," said Tournassoud.

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