AT&T’s Arnoldi: Security cannot be an afterthought

Melissa Arnoldi
AT&T's Melissa Arnoldi says the speed and amount of data coming down the pike is going to be astronomical.

DALLAS—Security is so important to AT&T and its customers, it’s designing its network from the start with security in mind.

“I can’t tell you how often we talk about how everything that we develop, security must be at the forefront,” said Melissa Arnoldi, senior executive vice president of technology and operations at AT&T, here at the FierceWireless Next-Gen Wireless Networks Summit. “You have to design security into your applications. It cannot be an afterthought.”

Interestingly, AT&T did a cybersecurity study earlier this year that uncovered some critical gaps in how businesses consider their strategies around cybersecurity, she said. About two-thirds of outside organizations believe that their in-house security capabilities are adequate, yet 80% of them have been breached within the past year. “Obviously that’s way too high.”

AT&T believes its worldwide network provides unique and valuable insights into security threats; more than 90 billion potential vulnerability probes are detected each day across its network. And the evidence is clear that the number and types of these attacks are not going to slow down.  

The constant pressure on the enterprise infrastructure and cloud environment requires a different approach to data protection, which is why AT&T has embedded security controls into the infrastructure of its cloud-based network. It’s also moved from macro perimeter protection down to micro perimeter protection, which is where the SDN/open source strategy is coming in handy.

One of the things AT&T is focused on is a mobile authentication task force, where it is working with the other carriers to use biometric technology to secure devices and customer data. More details will be released early next year about using biometrics to seamlessly authenticate across many applications no matter what service provider the customer is using, she said.

RELATED: Video: 5G use cases at Mobile World Congress Americas

She also covered AT&T’s plans for 5G, which it expects to come as early as late next year. AT&T is rolling out 5G Evolution capabilities, its precursor running up to full-on 5G, in parts of more than 20 markets this year. What that means is markets can support at least 400 megabits per second.

Earlier this month, the carrier announced it was bringing 256 QAM, 4x4 MIMO and 3-way carrier aggregation (CA) to parts of Minneapolis, site of next year's Super Bowl.

RELATED: AT&T bringing 256 QAM, 4x4 MIMO and CA to Minneapolis, gears up for Super Bowl

AT&T is also involved in real-world customer trials in Austin, Texas, from a business and residential perspective, and three more 5G fixed wireless trials will come later this year. The company earlier this year said it would expand fixed wireless 5G trials to business and residential customers in Waco, Texas; Kalamazoo, Michigan; and South Bend, Indiana, by the end of the year.

RELATED: AT&T reiterates 2018 5G launch date, but fixed, mobile use case still ‘undefined’

As for the big push AT&T is making to software defined networking (SDN), she said the company really had no choice. “It’s no secret that we’re going through a huge transformation,” she said, adding that given that her organization has close to 200,000 employees, it was critical that employees understood why it’s making this dramatic move.

The speed and amount of data traffic on its network is growing so much there was no other way to go. Data traffic on its wireless network has grown more than 250,000% over the last 10 years, and more than 186 petabytes goes through its network on a daily basis.

To put that in perspective, just about 5 years ago, it was 114 petabytes going across its network. LTE and the IoT have enabled an explosion of communication, and 5G will enable an expected 10x increase in traffic in the 5 years.