Secure provisioning, monitoring, mediation, and handover of data from lawful interception have long been critical considerations for Communication Service Providers (CSPs) in the design and buildout of public networks. Full interoperability with lawful intelligence solutions allows law enforcement agencies (LEAs), government entities, and emergency responders to protect citizens. In a world of increasingly distributed, encrypted networks shaped by cloud and 5G infrastructures, those considerations have become more complex.
To meet these evolving needs, SS8 and NEC, a supplier in the integration of network technologies, have now completed interoperability testing of their products. As part of SS8’s Acceler8 partner program, the ongoing engagement between the two companies has demonstrated long-distance compatibility between SS8’s Xcipio mediation platform and NEC’s Session Management Function (SMF), a 5G control-plane element. Validating this capability provides functional and regulatory assurances to CSPs as they set roadmaps to implement next-generation network infrastructure.
Going beyond the standards to ensure interoperability
As 5G networks proliferate and cloud-native based infrastructure that complies with regulatory structures like 3GPP and ETSI replaces the proprietary equipment of previous generations, a new wave of telecom infrastructure technology vendors are emerging. While international standards establish a baseline for interoperability among 5G network elements (including lawful intercept) from different vendors, those measures do not guarantee compatibility.
Every provider exercises some degree of interpretation in applying 3GPP, ETSI, and other standards. Accordingly, any combination of technologies from different companies must be thoroughly tested to verify performance, security, and usability. Through its Acceler8 program, SS8, therefore, pushes the interoperability of its platform with network functions and elements developed by various companies all over the world.
This validation provides assurances to CSPs that implementations will be executed smoothly and avoid unforeseen engineering issues that could delay projects and expand costs. The rigorous review of network elements; code and structure can also reveal previously unknown bugs or glitches, increasing their overall quality. SS8’s more than two decades of leadership in developing lawful intelligence platforms aligns the function with the broader network ecosystem across interfaces, formats, and protocols.
The SS8 and NEC Test Architecture
For the validation test, NEC’s SMF in Japan and the SS8 platform in California were interconnected by Amazon Web Services (AWS) infrastructure-as-a-service, as shown in the schematic below. The successful operation of the X1 provisioning interface and X2 signaling transmission interface demonstrate international connectivity and functional compliance between SS8’s Xcipio and NEC’s Converged Core, providing a proof of concept for lawful intelligence in the increasingly borderless world of communications.
Provisioning SS8’s Xcipio for interception from NEC’s SMF, located on the other side of the world, offers the companies’ shared customers elasticity on-demand, eliminating the need to maintain idle system headroom for usage peaks. Extending network infrastructures using public cloud resources rather than dedicated, localized hardware also allows network functions to be spun up when and where they are needed most in a ‘follow-the-sun’ model that optimizes network processing for the busiest times of day by region.
The seamless interoperation of SS8’s and NEC’s products across the Pacific demonstrates the opportunity for CSPs to geographically decouple lawful intelligence mechanisms from the network functions they must connect to. It allows for the efficient development of global services without the deployment of engineering staff to distant locations, while maintaining regulatory compliance and ensuring LEAs can obtain the evidence they need to advance investigations. At the same time, it protects privacy by encrypting communications data with the latest Transport Layer Security (TLS) standards and enforcing robust warrant management protocols to ensure that information handover follows legal requirements.
As CSPs seek greater economies of scale, mainly through mergers and acquisitions, larger, often international service areas are becoming prevalent. To the extent allowed by legal and other considerations, technology is, therefore, most efficient when it can operate freely across geographies, allowing CSPs to realize significant cost savings – particularly within regions with a common jurisdictional fabric, such as the EU.
The distributed nature of 5G networks enables this efficiency by moving network functions to the physical location where they will be used at the appropriate time. Because it is no longer necessary to backhaul all data to a central point, CSPs can dynamically provision resources to physical locations that reduce the bandwidth required to move data around the network. They can also reduce latency to improve service quality and enable real-time and near-real-time usages, capitalizing on the growing market for services related to the internet of things (IoT).
Strategic planning of network infrastructure sets the stage for CSPs to take advantage of emerging opportunities afforded by distributed, international networks. Aligning these network roadmaps with interoperable SS8 and NEC platforms provides CSPs with an efficient, end-to-end, carrier-grade 5G network supported by leading lawful intercept solutions that ensure compliance while capturing the actionable intelligence needed to protect society.
Authors: Patrick Lopez is global VP of product management for 5G products at NEC. Franklin Recio has been with SS8 since the foundation of the company, in charge of Global Field Services implementation and the Acceler8 Alliances program.
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