Guest Blog: Communications Resilience - ‘Good to Great Connectivity for the UK’

We all know that wireless connectivity is essential and that this connectivity is so embedded into our lives that sometimes users forget that they’re dependent on radio spectrum-access. At a recent Tech UK workshop on “How important is Communications Resiliency in Enabling Mass Cloud Adoption?”, the point was made that it’s not all about fibre connectivity as many icloud services are also accessed wirelessly.

Good to great connectivity is essential – but it also has to be resilient and trusted. Perhaps Britain’s key differentiator could be: Good to Great Resilient Connectivity.

The traditional Cyber communities are now investing heavily in mitigating cyber-attacks and increasing its awareness. But a denial of spectrum access has the same impact as a denial of service attack and could also cause significant economic, political, social or even physical harm. I think we now need to be thinking about putting Spectrum and Cyber-attacks together at a system level.

The UK Spectrum Policy Forum held a workshop on the resilience aspects of spectrum. It highlighted that resilience was a balance between; resistance, reliability, redundancy, and response and recovery. A theme that emerged was the availability of low-cost, highly-sophisticated radio technologies and open standards, which could be used to deny spectrum access and degrade connectivity. This was evidenced by the number of malicious sources openly available on the market. The workshop made a number of recommendations such as; users should understand their spectrum vulnerabilities and stresses and conduct spectrum stress tests and develop mitigations if necessary; and that there should be a “Common Spectrum Attacks and Mitigations” document that informs users, system integrators, service providers and manufactures of common issues.

The question now needs to be asked, “What measures do we need to take to ensure Good to Great Resilient Connectivity?” An emerging issue in the technical community is; how do you stress test your wireless system? One way could be to simulate an attack by turning all the devices off. However, some users may not know what’s wireless in their business or it may be too hard to turn off (e.g. IoT). The other method is to use an intentional interference source and ideally do a test at a system level. So I think what we need is some new accessible UK infrastructure such as a “spectrum range” where interference tests can be done safely over a wide range of frequencies and powers.

Another issue for resilience is good signal coverage. If we are to enable wide-spread icloud services, I think that we need to establish a minimum level of mobile signal coverage/connectivity so that all devices have some (minimum) level of service. The challenge here will be to define what universal means. Does it, for example, include tunnels, barns and shopping malls?

To provide good resilient connectivity, it goes without saying that many new transmitter sites will be needed. To ensure resilience through spatial and spectrum diversity, we should make as many emitter- sites available as possible and importantly share them. Perhaps we need to start thinking now about what infrastructure we already have that can be shared and what will be updated in the future that could be enhanced or reused to optimise the UK’s connectivity and spectrum access.

The most vulnerable wireless systems are single fixed-frequency systems. These may be cost effective and easily embedded into low cost applications, but they are also the easiest to disrupt. To ensure resilient-connectivity, I think some devices will need to be spectrally agile so they can move away from interference. We should, therefore, be thinking about spectrum resilience as being part of the standards e.g. for 5G, IoT, and autonomous systems. However, we do need to be cautious and appropriate. Resilience comes at an economic price and it may not be cost effective for all systems to be fully resilient. I think one commercial approach may be to add resilience organically, i.e. use technology to increase the system’s resilience as we learn about the spectrum threats and vulnerabilities through spectrum stress tests and common issues. Manufacturers or service providers could even create a hierarchical “Spectrum Resilience Tag” to allow users to choose the product or service that have the resilience they want.

All of the above issues, particularly those related to “What infrastructure and facilities does the UK need to pursue its spectrum resilience, innovation and policy objectives” will be discussed at the next Tech UK workshop on 3rd May 2017. I hope that you will come along and drive this important agenda and create the “Good to Great Resilient Connectivity” needed by Britain.

Guest blog from Dr Anil Shukla, QinetiQ Fellow "Intelligently using the radio spectrum" for techUK's "Good to Great Connectivity for the UK" Week.

Get involved at #ConnectedFuture. More information is available on techUK’s Communications Infrastructure Programme.

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