LTE and IoT Growth Presents Rising Challenges in MENA

Filed in Internet of Things, LTE, Middle East by on October 14, 2016 0 Comments

The article below is from the June-July 2016 issue of SAMENA Trends (page 56) and is published here with permission.

Of all the regions in the world, the Middle East and Africa is one in which some of today’s biggest challenges in mobile are coming together to present a particularly crucial opportunity. Soaring demand for bandwidth capacity, new competition from apps and OTT players, and rapid growth of new technologies like LTE and the internet of things represent but a few of these rising challenges.

Specifically, the region’s large population, surging mobile data use and lack of fixed-line internet connectivity promise a tremendous opportunity for mobile data services in the next few years. From 2014 to 2020, for example, the GSMA projects that the percentage of mobile broadband connections will shoot from 34 to 69 percent in MENA. Critically, the lack of fixed broadband infrastructure means that the fixed-line stage of internet connectivity will largely be skipped, and many mobile users will move directly to mobile for their method of going online.

These factors point to huge opportunities, but ones that require careful understanding and planning. As mobile data use continues to accelerate and evolve across MENA, it’s imperative that operators have a full-scale strategy in place to be able to seize the opportunities now coming to a boil.

Based on recent work with mobile operators in this region over the past several years, I’ve developed two perspectives on strategies that I see as essential for operators to implement.

1. Expanding 3G and 4G networks to cater to smartphone use
From 2014 to 2020, smartphone connections in MENA are forecast to shoot from 117 million to 327 million, according to the GSMA. This rapid rise in smartphone use will present an acute need for the further buildout of 3G networks as well as the rollout of 4G/LTE networks as users begin to take advantage of more data-intensive services.

This deployment, however, involves numerous challenges. First, in addition to needing new equipment, new pricing structures and new roaming partnerships, operators that are expanding their 3G networks or launching 4G networks must focus on establishing reach to a maximum number of networks, so they can offer the widest coverage for their users. IPX has emerged as a fundamental network backbone for 3G, 4G and other next-generation services to allow operators to achieve this reach. Second, enabling ubiquitous roaming for these networks requires comprehensive testing of critical roaming processes, like clearing and settlement. IPX likewise provides a versatile platform for the enablement of this testing.

IPX solutions now can be scaled and fit to a number of differing technology specifications. Consequently, operators should look to invest in IPX as a core part of their strategy to be able to meet the demands for their 3G and 4G network deployments.

2. Protecting against fraud from the internet of things – With the increase in smartphone use in MENA, the internet of things (IoT), while still relatively a small part of the total connections in the region for now, is growing quickly and beginning to bring with it serious problems. According to the latest GSMA data, IoT by 2020 will represent over 23 billion global connections, and with this rapidly expanding world of internet connections, a new generation of fraudsters is taking root.

Connected devices that provide increased convenience and improved services are also collecting, transmitting and storing vast amounts of consumer data, and creating a number of new theft and privacy risks. As a result, with everything connected to Internet theoretically able to be hacked, millions of new devices, business processes and network connections have now become hackable. Additionally, the danger doesn’t just come from some data suddenly becoming easily available through transmissions on the internet; it comes from the ingeniousness of fraudsters in constantly searching for new ways to pick the locks of the internet across rapidly evolving environments with countless points of entry.

Through recent work with customers, we’ve begun to address two types of IoT fraud, among others, that present particular rising threats and ones needing stronger responses:

  • ATM fraud – One of the more egregious thefts in the IoT world comes from this type of fraud attack. Using web-based controls, fraudsters can change account balances and access restrictions to directly tap into machines loaded with cash. The way this kind of fraud emerged is an example of how IoT is now decentralizing the control of infrastructure in the same way that the web decentralized access to information. Banks began using IoT-enabled ATMs to decentralize their ATM operations. Then, fraudsters discovered this IoT-based system as a point of entry through which account balances could be accessed and manipulated. Through this control, fraudsters began to perpetrate any number of transactions. A typical method involves withdrawing money from ATMs without having the balance of an account reduced, because the account has been programmed to show an unchanged balance. Using these methods, one attack resulted in $40 million being robbed from just 12 accounts.
  • Ad fraud – This attack occurs when fraudsters spread malware through a piece of code in an ad. When a user clicks on that code, the code takes over the user’s device and creates a botnet, a network of computers infected without the users’ knowledge. Fraudsters then can use this botnet to send spam emails, transmit viruses and engage in other acts of cybercrime. This botnet risk perpetrated through ad fraud underlies a central threat of IoT fraud: It’s not the devices themselves that present the security risk as much as it is the Trojan horses they represent in terms of being vulnerable to attacks. For example, many newer IoT devices, such as baby monitors and refrigerators, don’t even have security systems protecting them from botnet attacks because of their limited memory and slow processors. In the same way, ad fraud offers an ideal pathway to creating a botnet because, in general, security intrusions come from perpetrators trying to hack into a system directly, or from perpetrators using a third-party code to try to get into a system indirectly. Ad fraud offers one of the biggest third-party codes available to exploit users’ devices and is much easier than a brute-force attack.

Surging data use will soon drive a dynamic phase of mobile development in MENA. This growth will allow a wide-scale bypass of fixed-line internet access, but it will also spur unprecedented demands for high-speed networks and extensive data service. It’s imperative that operators have full-scale IPX strategies and IoT fraud protection strategies in place to meet the demands to enable this exciting future.


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About the Author ()

Nour Al Atassi is a former Regional Vice President and Managing Director of the Middle East and Africa at Syniverse.

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