The evolution of telecommunication industry standards has been marked by a steady and methodical progression of revision and refinement. The gradual nature of standards development (generally 1.5 to 2 years between 3GPP Releases) makes it a useful strategic narrative for both communication service providers (CSPs) and law enforcement agencies (LEAs). For example, network slicing support was specified in 2018 within 3GPP Release 15, which was also the Phase 1 of 5G specification. Additional functionality including user identification and authentication were specified in Release 16, followed by RAN slicing in Release 17. As those specifications have emerged, SS8 has been developing related lawful intelligence use cases, leveraging new intercept-related information (IRI) generated by individual network slices to strengthen the lawful intelligence mission.
Recent 3GPP Release Specifications for 5G Networks
This article considers a few aspects of 3GPP 5G specifications that will impact the lawful intelligence operations of both CSPs and LEAs in the coming years.
5G Streaming Media and Next-Gen Real-Time Communication
3GPP is studying significant enhancements for multimedia streaming and real-time communication traffic. Both reflect a broader set of subscriber usage shifts that have dramatically expanded bandwidth consumption and uplink traffic. 3GPP Release 18 therefore addresses a range of functionalities to support continuing trends in traffic growth:
- Bandwidth-intensive traffic such as higher-definition video resolutions and emerging data types like extended reality (XR).
- User-generated content from services such as TikTok, Facebook, and YouTube, which upload massive amounts of data from dispersed points.
- Real-time video communications, including online meetings and video calls, which require low-latency traffic processing in both directions.
The specifications target more effective and efficient delivery of these communications, maintaining quality through dynamic prioritization of the network traffic. For example, separation of the control and user planes enables CSPs to scale aspects of the network independently and enables trusted partners to securely access the benefits of 5G to rapidly launch new services. SS8 is working to ensure that its lawful intelligence platform captures and contextualizes the enhanced control signaling associated with this increased network complexity to make intercepted 5G data more valuable to investigations.
Evolving Network Support for IoT Traffic
Beginning with Release 17, 3GPP extended its specifications for satellite communications to include remote endpoints beyond the reach of terrestrial networks, typically IoT devices. This work enhanced services relevant to lawful interception, such as network verification of user equipment (UE) location. Likewise, Release 18 provides standards for narrowband IoT, which provides low-power, wide-area connectivity for low-density IoT service areas, like rural areas. Ongoing involvement in the development of these standards helps ensure that SS8’s lawful intelligence platforms are positioned to mediate new data flows.
The development of standards around residential or personal IoT networks also has significant potential for lawful intelligence operations. These small-scale networks include items such as wearables, digital assistants, and appliances, as well as commercial devices that could range from printers to industrial sensors. However, the low-cost, low-power footprint of many of these devices often limits the types of communication interfaces and complexity they support.
These devices therefore typically connect to the internet through private networks such as Wi-Fi access points. Unless other means exist, such as device authentication, the private network obscures individual endpoint identities, presenting an encrypted address to the public network. 3GPP is working to solve this non-specificity to provide for differentiated services and Quality of Service (QoS) on a per-device basis, and SS8 is positioning its lawful intelligence platform to align with those capabilities as they become available.
SS8 participates in 3GPP, ETSI, and other standards bodies to help guide this progress, contributing our expertise while building our knowledge of emerging technologies that will affect lawful intelligence in the coming years. Our experience with standards development helps direct the features and capabilities roadmap for SS8’s end-to-end platform, including mediation, monitoring, and data analytics, to ensure ongoing functionality, interoperability, compliance, and value for lawful intelligence.
Edge Computing with Cloud-Native Architectures
The massive shift to more distributed architectures is rapidly transforming CSP networks. Pushing compute power to the network edge allows data to be consumed close to where it is created, enabling low-latency services while reducing data backhaul requirements. As technologies like self-driving cars, smart cities, and the metaverse fuel this trend, ongoing 3GPP work is focusing on various aspects of UE roaming. For example, application servers in one edge hosting environment may pass a running application to servers in a separate edge hosting environment, with the user session remaining intact the whole time.
Older lawful interception approaches that relied on centralized mediation in a hub-and-spoke topology are therefore being replaced by newer ones based on cloud-native architecture and containerized microservices. SS8 provides ongoing industry leadership in this transformation with cloud-native capabilities ready for next-generation CSP deployments.
As 3GPP specifications for network slicing, data streaming, IoT devices, edge computing, and other innovative technologies emerge, CSPs and LEAs must be prepared to accommodate the growth in traffic. SS8 is closely monitoring these new standards to enable lawful intelligence functionalities like metadata analysis, which allows CSPs to provide context around existing, but encrypted, data while giving LEAs the most complete picture of a target of interest.
About Baski Mohan
Baski Mohan is a Director of Product Management for SS8’s data mediation platform called Xcipio. He brings over 20 years of experience in Carrier Grade Networking, Application Security, and SaaS technologies. Baski is a passionate believer in the use of technology to solve global problems and has a Master of Science degree in Computer Science from Pondicherry University. You can learn more about Baski on his LinkedIn profile here.
About SS8 Networks
As a leader in Lawful and Location Intelligence, SS8 helps make societies safer. Our commitment is to extract, analyze, and visualize the critical intelligence that gives law enforcement, intelligence agencies, and emergency services the real-time insights that help save lives. Our high performance, flexible, and future-proof solutions also enable mobile network operators to achieve regulatory compliance with minimum disruption, time, and cost. SS8 is trusted by the largest government agencies, communications providers, and systems integrators globally.
Intellego® XT monitoring and data analytics portfolio is optimized for Law Enforcement Agencies to capture, analyze, and visualize complex data sets for real-time investigative intelligence.
LocationWise delivers the highest audited network location accuracy worldwide, providing active and passive location intelligence for emergency services, law enforcement, and mobile network operators.
Xcipio® mediation platform meets the demands of lawful intercept in any network type and provides the ability to transcode (convert) between lawful intercept handover versions and standard families.
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