Enhancing mobile experiences: DPI in 5G and 5.5G networks

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By John Bonzey
Published on: 09.04.2024

5G has made significant strides since its initial commercial deployments in 2019. 3GPP’s Rel-18 ASN.1/ OpenAPI freeze will give vendors the final development guidelines for Rel-18-compatible hardware and software, pushing forward the commercial use of 5.5G or 5G-Advanced standard. Rel 18 enables more granular, customized network slicing for vertical industries, individual users and even applications. This opens doors for personalized and optimized network experiences. Rel-18 also enhances the integration of 5G with satellite communications systems for an even wider reach.

Furthermore, as AI technologies optimize network performance and management within the 5G ecosystem, new partnerships are forming to explore novel use cases and architectural frameworks. These efforts will accelerate service creation and delivery, ensuring a more seamless and dependable user experience in a maturing 5G landscape.

Boosting current and new 5G use cases

5G and, soon, 5.5G will enable new immersive AR/VR experiences, leveraging not just haptics and spatial computing but also the capacity and latency improvements enabled by in-network computing, and cloud and edge processing. Cloud gaming will enable gaming everywhere, anytime; involving cross-continent interactions. AR/VR applications will feature richer experiences. Multi access edge computing (MEC), in-network computing and 5G’s URLLC capabilities will speed up autonomous transportation and industrial automation. In smart cities, more functionalities – from waste management to pollution control and security surveillance – will be managed remotely using 5G connectivity.

5G and 5.5G present many other advancements. This includes a huge leap in private networks, allowing industries and businesses to expand their network perimeters, boost bandwidth and reduce latencies. The 5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) market will boom further, providing high-speed Internet access to underserved regions while expanding broadband choices for urban customers and businesses. The adoption of Open RAN, AI and cloud integration in network architectures will intensify, empowering operators to build adaptable, efficient and future-proof networks.

The role of DPI in 5G and 5.5G

Underpinning many of 5G and 5.5G’s advancements is deep network visibility. With the proliferation of in-network computing, the use of cloud-native-architectures and complex edge architectures, accurate and granular traffic identification is imperative, so that network traffic is processed closer to the end user. This greatly improves latency and also allows virtual network instances to be continuously aligned to traffic conditions. It also helps operators to detect and arrest cyber threats before they affect the network.

Deep packet inspection (DPI) is widely deployed in operator networks for real-time traffic intelligence. ipoque’s next-gen DPI engines, R&S®PACE 2 and R&S®vPACE, use advanced traffic classification techniques such as behavioral, heuristics and statistical analysis, as well as advanced machine learning (ML)/ deep learning (DL) algorithms and high-dimensional data analysis to gain encrypted traffic intelligence. They enable an accurate and reliable identification of protocols, applications and service types, even across encrypted and obfuscated traffic flows. Operators can identify and differentiate various types of traffic for appropriate network slice allocation, such as eMBB for HD video streaming and URLLC for IIoT. Both engines also perform metadata extraction to capture parameters, such as throughput, packet size, URLs, number of packets, uplink vs downlink ratio, session duration and encryption version levels, for predictive maintenance and threat detection within 5G networks.

    Traffic management complexities command new levels of visibility in 5G

    Dynamic creation and allocation of slices requires instant identification of protocols and applications. DPI’s application detection enhanced with attribute information, for example video over gQUIC or video streams over TLS 1.3, can indicate video streaming, whereas Layer 7 protocol detection of MQTT and CoAP can suggest IoT device data.

    Managing slice performance requires intelligent routing, switching and load balancing decisions based on service-level agreements (SLAs). Monitoring of performance metrics, such as latency, jitter, and packet loss, across different slices can reveal potential bottlenecks. Based on these metrics, proactive measures can be taken to prevent service disruptions. For instance, during Singapore’s National Day Parade, Singtel ensured that prioritized users, such as public safety and crowd control officers, had guaranteed access to reserved network slices1. Issues like latency spikes or increased packet loss can be identified in real time with the use of DPI, allowing for timely intervention before they impair user experience. This is particularly important for applications such as autonomous driving and remote surgery. Comparing DPI-driven performance data across different slices and historic trends also allows for continuous optimization and fine tuning of 5G network configurations for optimal performance.

    Additionally, using DPI data to analyze real-time traffic patterns helps operators identify frequently accessed applications such as 4K video streaming. This enables targeted, localized caching strategies for faster delivery and reduced bandwidth consumption. DPI’s traffic classification also allows operators to compress content based on resolutions by user and device, further optimizing resource usage and improving network performance without impacting user experience.

    Finally, real-time traffic visibility from DPI fuels 5G automation. It helps operators implement data-driven decision-making for resource allocation, configuration adjustments and slice management based on user demands and network conditions. It supports closed-loop automation and self-healing capabilities, where 5G network systems automatically identify, diagnose and respond to issues without constant human intervention.

    Addressing security challenges in 5G through DPI-driven insights

    The era of 5G has also brought new security challenges. The sheer volume of connected devices, edge processing, extensive use of cloud and open architectures has dramatically expanded the network attack surface. Network slicing, for example, increases the risk of MITM attacks, where adversaries attempt to intercept sensitive data or disrupt mission-critical communications. Similarly, an SDN controller introduces a single point of failure, becoming a high-value target for compromising the entire network. 5G is also being increasingly used for critical infrastructure and cyber-physical industrial systems, making it a target for adversaries preying on essential services.

    In this context, DPI insights can power security tools, such as IPS and IDS, in gathering, analyzing and correlating network data, enabling networks to detect malicious and suspicious activity. For example, sudden spikes in traffic or unusual data transfer patterns can indicate a zero-day attack that traditional signature-based detection methods might miss. One significant security challenge within 5G is ensuring the secure isolation and protection of each network slice. With real-time traffic visibility, next-gen firewalls can dynamically adjust security policies for each slice based on threat incidences and overall security posture. For instance, unauthorized access attempts or unusual data manipulation patterns in an IIoT slice in a 5G private network can be used to isolate the compromised devices and alert system administrators. Similarly, DPI-based visibility into SDN control plane activity alongside the establishment of acceptable behavioral baselines and analysis of network behavior anomalies can help identify and mitigate exploitation of SDN controllers and orchestration platforms.

    DPI remains crucial for harnessing the future of mobile connectivity

    As we anticipate the transition to 5.5G and beyond, DPI remains indispensable in shaping the future of mobile connectivity. With significant developments being made in cloud and computing technologies, one can expect a myriad of new, leading-edge personalized services that thrive on stricter performance demands. DPI-driven deep network visibility complements such services by providing a seamless, lightweight implementation that allows network activity to be monitored 24/7, end-to-end. Apart from being highly scalable, DPI software from ipoque can be tuned to focus on the most pertinent applications and protocols, regardless of encryption. These capabilities and the rapid shift from 5G to 5.5G, and soon 6G, will see DPI playing a pivotal role in enabling a secure and adaptable future for mobile networks.


    [1] https://www.ericsson.com/en/press-releases/2/2024/2/singtel-pioneers-worlds-first-app-based-network-slicing-technology

    John Bonzey portrait

    John Bonzey

    Contact me on LinkedIn

    John Bonzey is the sales manager for the American market, which he opened successfully for ipoque since joining Rohde & Schwarz back in 2013. John has strong expertise in software and hardware system solutions for network operators, enterprise and OEM market segments. John lives with his family in Boston, Massachusetts and is a passionate ice hockey player and adventurous snowmobiler.

    Email: John.Bonzey@rsa.rohde-schwarz.com
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