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How to Work Securely from Virtually Anywhere with 5G Connected Laptops

How to Work Securely from Virtually Anywhere with 5G Connected Laptops

Ken Williams, National Senior Manager of Partner Solutions at T-Mobile for Business, joins Ron Westfall and Krista Macomber to discuss the rapidly evolving threat landscape and steps decision makers can take to protect their organizations. They delve into why 5G connected laptops are integral to meeting mounting cybersecurity threats, particularly as remote work is increasing, and how they can empower organization to connect securely from anywhere, especially through the backing of a nationwide 5G standalone network.

Their discussion covers:

  • The increase in cybersecurity threats and the potential risks, impacts, and costs they can incur for businesses.
  • How the increase in remote work is expanding the traditional attack surface including more risks posed by public Wi-Fi
  • An explanation of what connected laptops are and the opportunity they represent in the market.
  • How connected laptops empower organizations to connect securely from anywhere, limiting their reliance on risky unknown Wi-Fi networks and eliminating the risks they pose.
  • The strategic value of a nationwide 5G standalone network in attaining optimized 5G connected laptop outcomes.

For more information, download our report, 5G Connected Devices: The Enduring Advantages of Superior Security, and the infographic on our website.

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Disclosure: The Futurum Group is a research and advisory firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this article. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this article.

Analysis and opinions expressed herein are specific to the analyst individually and data and other information that might have been provided for validation, not those of The Futurum Group as a whole.

Transcript:

Ron Westfall: Hello and welcome everyone to the Futurum Tech Webcast. I’m Ron Westfall, Research Director here at The Futurum Group. And I cover the mobile ecosystem. And I’m also joined here today by my distinguished colleague, Krista Macomber, Research Director focused on security here at The Futurum Group. How’s it going today, Krista?

Krista Macomber: I am very happy to be here today, Ron. How are you doing?

Ron Westfall: Well, pretty much on that same level because I’m really excited about our conversation today. In fact, what we’ll be focusing on is 5G connected devices and how they will provide the enduring advantages of superior security. And we have been collaborating with T-Mobile for Business, and gaining a better understanding as to why 5G connected devices are essential in the AI powered hybrid workforce era. And naturally we are most pleased to have, joining us today are welcomed guests, Ken Williams, National Senior Manager at Partner Solutions at T-Mobile for Business. Great to see you, Ken. Tell us more about yourself and how are you feeling?

Ken Williams: Feeling great. I’m happy to be here with both of you and looking forward to this. A little bit about myself, been in the industry since cell phones were $10 a minute and they only worked at the main corner downtown. So it’s been a long time in this industry.

Ron Westfall: It’s been a great journey. And well with that, let’s jump right in. I’ll hand it off to Krista. I think she has some ideas she wants to definitely share.

Krista Macomber: Absolutely. So I know one of the key topics that really has brought this collaboration together is cybersecurity. I think it’s really no surprise to anyone that cyber threats just continue to increase. And what I mean by that is that they’re becoming more sophisticated in their nature, especially as attackers now have access to artificial intelligence. There is a tremendous amount of risk involved to any organization when we think about any potential fines or lost sales as a result of downtime. Of course, the reputational impact in negative PR that can be resulting from a cyber attack as well. And the truly scary thing is that nobody in no industry is immune. We’re seeing that organizations of all sizes across all verticals are being attacked.

And in fact, I’ve even seen research over the last few months that has shown that critical infrastructure is being attacked as well. But double clicking down on that in particular, Ken, I’d really love to kind of get some perspective from you on this. I know one of the things that our teams have talked about together is the fact that network-based security breaches are particularly troublesome. So can you share a little bit about what T-Mobile is seeing from your end?

Ken Williams: Yeah, definitely. We mirror a lot of what you just talked about in what we’re seeing. And a big chunk of that is an increase in things like man-in-the-middle attacks where we’re starting to see a spoofing, where it appears as if you’re talking to the individual or to the network that you’re supposed to be talking to but you’re really not. And it’s as simple as a character change inside of the web address that you’re using and it looks identical to the normal human. They look at it and they go, “Wow, this is the website. This is where I’m supposed to be.” But it’s just one character off or one change inside of that space.

We’re also starting to see Wi-Fi spoofing attacks. And this is really a big thing for remote workers who have to connect to public Wi-Fi networks. They think I’m staying at, pick a hotel, staying at the hotel and I’m thinking I’m going to connect to this Wi-Fi.

And in reality, it’s some guy’s hotspot in his car in the parking lot and he has just used the same name. And so it’s very important that remote workers now pay really close attention. Did they get that splash screen to register? Is that a component of that authentication? And I think one other thing that we’re starting to see a lot more on the rise again is phishing attacks. In the old days, phishing attacks were pretty simple to catch. The phraseology was off or the spelling seemed a little different. But now it looks like it’s coming from your boss, the email address is pretty darn close. And if you don’t pay close attention to what you’re about to click on, you put yourself in a very dangerous spot.

Krista Macomber: It’s pretty frightening. And Ken, correct me if I’m mistaken, but part of the reason why phishing is so relevant here as well is not only because it’s so prominent and as you mentioned, becoming more difficult to detect. But also it can actually be used to deliver malware that might in turn explode a vulnerability in a hotspot or an unsecure Wi-Fi network, correct?

Ken Williams: Yeah, that’s correct. And one other thing that we see along that phishing line is not just that they’re dropping things into your computer, but you have to think about the hardware that you’re connecting to as well. A lot of people, even home networks, they’ll go out and buy these very expensive Wi-Fi routers that they hook into the home network. But if you are not a techie yourself, you probably don’t keep up on all the little updates and firmwares that are pushed out.

And so eventually an intelligent hacker will get a hold of that and realize that, it could be as simple as I never changed the password and the login from admin. That’s the easiest way to get in. But once firmware has been updated two or three times, that’s really where you start to see a lot of hackers playing around with older firmware versions. And really figuring out how to get into those devices and then infect not just the work laptop, but everything connected to that home network.

Krista Macomber: It’s definitely a big problem. And I think when we think about the potential ramifications, there’s potentially sensitive data being stolen, communications being either altered or disrupted, again, definitely a pretty frightening picture. And one of the things that I think is also a challenge is that these network-based attacks, they’re very difficult to defend against, right, Ken? So effectively all you need to do is be in range of one of these unsecured wireless networks.

Ken Williams: Yeah, you bring up a topic that I’ve heard many, many times where, let’s just meet at Starbucks, you’ll do your work, I’ll do my work and we’ll just get some things done. And an interesting story that I’ve shared a few times in my life, I used to work with, a guy who was very good at unlocking Wi-Fi networks. And so we went to a Starbucks one time and he says, “I’ll show you how easy this is.” And within a few seconds he was inside of this coffee shop’s Wi-Fi network. And not only able to look at all the other computers that were connected, but look at what else was connected to that network. That’s another important component of it, is companies need to be able to separate out the two networks inside of their location, making sure that their guests aren’t on the corporate network when they’re inside.

Krista Macomber: Absolutely, because it can be almost that domino effect, like you say, not only just penetrating that device but anything else that it’s connected to.

Ken Williams: Correct.

Krista Macomber: Yeah. And you paint this great picture of connecting and meeting at a Starbucks for example. And that kind of brings me to the next topic that I wanted to talk with you about today, Ken, which is remote work. It’s certainly become a part of most of our lives. As a global economy, I think we were moving in that direction. But then obviously I think the COVID pandemic accelerated that. And it’s certainly here to stay with the vast majority of us working if not fully remote, then at least partially. And that has joined other working locations like remote sites or working from the fields and things of that nature.

So what we’re seeing is kind of this two found where not only are employees very much distributed, but also there’s all of these new potential devices that they’re looking to access as well. And I know our teams can in collaboration with each other, we fielded some research earlier this year around some of these network security trends and also the implications from a connected device perspective. And in that research, we actually found that 73% of those executives that we surveyed perceived remote workers as a greater security risk. So I would just love to get your reaction to that.

Ken Williams: Yeah, I think that number it feels low to me, to be honest. It’s weird. I’m very careful, but I can tell you across my tenure inside technology I’ve clicked the wrong link before. And so to think about 73% of executives perceiving that as a security risk, and that’s interesting to me, I would think that number would be a little bit higher than that, maybe in the 80, 85% range. But I do know that there was an interesting overwhelming majority of senior leaders who said, I think it was 91% expressed varying levels of concern around going from somewhat concerned to extremely concerned in that remote worker. Bringing the virus back in or allowing the malware to get into the computer and then infecting the network when they’re back into the office.

Krista Macomber: Certainly. So I think it’s pretty safe to say that when we think about cyber resiliency, we certainly need to take some measures that are very comprehensive and proactive. And I think it’s pretty clear that when we think about remote workers, their connected devices really are kind of the central hub of their work. And so they’ve really become this critical area of vulnerability. They may be using unapproved applications, for example, the security settings if they’re not controlled by IT they might be misconfigured or weak. And also it’s very easy for them to be lost or stolen or just otherwise compromised.

So I know bringing back to the research as well, one thing that we really wanted to look at was in light of that, how do we facilitate more secure connections? Because actually I think it was about 65% of the respondents identified public Wi-Fi as the connection point that presents their greatest security risks.

Ken Williams: Yeah, I agree with that. That is definitely a great stat, when you think about the global workforce that only about 20% of it is really office-based. I heard a recent stat that roughly 80% of the global workforce is remote. Now, that doesn’t mean they’re working from home, that just means they’re out in the field and not tied to a desk. When you think about that number and you extrapolate out how many of those individuals need access to real-time data that their companies provide to them in order to do their work, you’re looking at somewhere between 65 and 70% of that 80%. That is a huge number, the global workforce that’s trying to gain access back into a corporate network from whatever connection they have available to them. And I think it’s a really big reason that we’re starting to see that push for embedded laptops with a 5G chip set. And the ability to control what the employees are really connecting to when they’re in the field.

Krista Macomber: And so it definitely sounds like these 5G laptops are a solution. So Ron, I know you wanted to alongside with Ken, next take us through what exactly we’re referring to when we were looking at these 5G connected laptops.

Ron Westfall: Yeah, thank you, Krista. And that’s a perfect segue because I think it definitely has my attention, why security is essential to really the 5G connected market? And I think we have some very important takeaways from our collaboration with T-Mobile in terms of the research we conducted as well as some key information that comes to the forefront. And so I would like to share that one thing that we definitely address is the fact that yes, the hybrid work security landscape is going to be just quite simply growing dramatically.

For example, in 2022, the global market for laptops sold was 193.3 million. And out of that amount, the business segment of the market represented 48% of sales. And now that amounts to about 93 million laptops. And so as a starting point, what about the market itself? Why is it growing and so forth? Ken, from your perspective, what are you seeing? Why is it taking off so dramatically?

Ken Williams: Yeah, I think we’ve got to think back to the 2020 time period where a lot of employers didn’t know what to do. We stopped having people come into the office and suddenly we said we should probably have those individuals connected somehow at home so that we can still get productivity from them. And so they went out and they bought all of these laptops. Now, if you think about the average laptop cycle, it’s typically about three to five years. At that point, you need to make upgrades to them, you’ve got to turn them over.

And so I think what we’re seeing right now is the tail end of those laptops that were bought during COVID to help support remote work, finally reaching a place where we now need to get them upgraded to the next level. And as I mentioned before, I think connected laptops with 5G technology, they offer that added layer of security and control back to the company. And so it makes sense that we would start to see a shift from Wi-Fi only devices into the connected laptop space at this time.

Ron Westfall: And I think that’s an outstanding point. In fact, that sets up drilling down. It’s not just connected laptops, but also specifically 5G connected laptops that are definitely going to be growing. And so I’d like to share some more information here. And that is out of the laptops that were sold in 2022, going back to your timeframe there, Ken, only one million of them were 5G cellular enabled. And so that is driving the expectation that the market for these cellular enabled units will reach 14.3 million in 2025. And that’s information coming from Statista. Now, with 69% of the total being 5G laptops, this represents somewhere along the order of 10 million laptops.

So this is certainly representing substantial growth for 5G connected laptops specifically. And as a result, this market segment is definitely one that’s going to be gaining more ecosystem attention, more developer support and so forth. And as such, this opportunity is going to give companies out there, the enterprises out there top most consideration to security as a major factor in their purchase decisions. That’s what we’re seeing. Particularly as they’re migrating away from those 4G LTE laptops from before the 2020 era and shortly thereafter. And so going back to this key point, Ken, what are you seeing in terms of 5G connected laptops specifically? Why is it pretty much poised to grow so dramatically here over the next couple of years?

Ken Williams: Well, I think part of it is multiple aspects, as I talked about the upgrade window is now here. And so the conquest for IT directors is do I buy a 4G LTE enabled laptop that most likely has a two-year lifespan, or do I go with a 5G connected laptop which potentially could have again, that upper end of four to five year lifespan. There’s a little bit of cost increase in going 4G to 5G, but there’s also longevity that that brings. And so the ROI model is starting to show that 5G laptops are a smarter play than sticking on 4G.

And I think the other aspect of what we’re seeing is we’re only about two years into this 5G movement, if you think about when the networks really became robust. And so we’re still in the infancy of what will the next killer application be? And the buzzword right now of course is AI. What can AI do? And do we need higher speeds, lower latency in order to really leverage AI at its fullest extent? And I believe we do. I believe that 5G affords these remote workers the opportunity to really leverage into the AI space. And using the power of these new 5G laptops get that much quicker response through the lower latency and the higher speeds.

Ron Westfall: And I think that’s an excellent point, especially about AI workloads. That pretty much puts all the urgency, the prioritization on having a 5G connected device that not only can handle the bandwidth and the latency demands, but also ensure that built in security. And I think that is why we’re seeing connected laptops, basically empowering organizations to connect securely from anywhere. That is, there shouldn’t be any limitations fundamentally on how a workforce should be able to access not only the organization’s network, but having built in security no matter the context.

And so as such, we’re seeing that this is limiting reliance on risky, unknown Wi-Fi networks, and also limiting the risks that they pose. Now, I know T-Mobile for Business has been collaborating with Intel and also looking at ways to solve this top priority security concern. And Ken, from your view, how is this progressing? Why is it different now? What is it that’s coming to the table that’s going to allow T-Mobile for Business to say, “Look, we can give you that peace of mind?”

Ken Williams: Yeah, that’s a great question. And I would break it down into, again, a couple of different components. The first being that speed and latency becoming more and more important to the end user, that’s driving the initiative behind the adoption. But then you have to look at what is it that is going to keep it even more secure than just getting it off of Wi-Fi and onto a 5G network. And what we’ve done at T-Mobile is we’ve come out with a new solution called T-SIM Secure, which allows the end user at the SIM level to have protected data end to end with their corporation. And when you think about that, now you have the added layer of security that 5G brings.

On top of that, you have this T-SIM secure layer, which creates again another tunnel to keep you safe and secure while you’re out there on the internet. And then when you’re working specifically back into the company’s databases and getting into that real-time data that we talked about in the beginning, now what you’ve done is you’ve created that secure end-to-end tunnel. And you’re not worried about outside traffic packet sniffers and some of the other items that are out there, where they’re trying to steal that data as it’s in transit.

Ron Westfall: Yes. And I’m seeing the ecosystem really coming through. It’s coming together. You have certainly the processor suppliers coming to the forefront with having these capabilities built in, and naturally the OEM laptop provider is doing their part. And most importantly, it’s having a nationwide 5G network that can actually deliver on these capabilities. And that I think is just good news for the entire ecosystem, but especially enterprises and organizations out there that will need to rely on these capabilities. And I think that those are very insightful takeaways that you’ve provided, Ken. And at this point, are there any additional concluding thoughts that you would like to share with us?

Ken Williams: When you lay out the overall security viewpoint, you have to be aware that it’s not if an attack happens or if a breach happens, it’s when. And so being prepared for that, not only by using 5G connected laptops, by not only including T-SIM Secure, but also educating and training the employees on what to look for. One of the things I’m really proud of that we do here at T-Mobile is they send us emails occasionally and you look at it and you go, seems real. I’m not going to click it. I’m going to report it. And then you get a little kudos email back from it that says, “Hey, great job picking out a spoofing email or a phishing email.” Or whatever it is that they decided to send to you.

Now, outside of that education, outside of that 5G connectivity, the other thing that really makes me proud of where I work here at T-Mobile is that we’ve created this 5G nationwide standalone network that doesn’t really allow us, or doesn’t force us to rely on the old LTE standards. And I believe when you couple that 5G standalone, you couple the T-SIM Secure solution. And you put embedded laptops in the hands of your employees, your company’s going to be safer, your employees will be more productive. And I think overall it’s just a much better experience for all of us.

Ron Westfall: Yeah, I think that definitely can provide peace of mind. And thank you so much, Ken, for sharing these insights and thoughts. And Krista, thank you for providing the perspective on security and the drill-down there. And with that, I’d like to thank everyone for joining us today on the Futurum Tech Webcast. We always appreciate you taking the time out to join our conversations with great guests such as Ken. And also don’t forget to naturally bookmark us and look at our upcoming webcast. And with that, thank you everyone and have a great secure 5G Day.

Ken Williams: Thank you.

Krista Macomber: Thank you.

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Author Information

Ron is an experienced, customer-focused research expert and analyst, with over 20 years of experience in the digital and IT transformation markets, working with businesses to drive consistent revenue and sales growth.

He is a recognized authority at tracking the evolution of and identifying the key disruptive trends within the service enablement ecosystem, including a wide range of topics across software and services, infrastructure, 5G communications, Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), analytics, security, cloud computing, revenue management, and regulatory issues.

Prior to his work with The Futurum Group, Ron worked with GlobalData Technology creating syndicated and custom research across a wide variety of technical fields. His work with Current Analysis focused on the broadband and service provider infrastructure markets.

Ron holds a Master of Arts in Public Policy from University of Nevada — Las Vegas and a Bachelor of Arts in political science/government from William and Mary.

With a focus on data security, protection, and management, Krista has a particular focus on how these strategies play out in multi-cloud environments. She brings approximately a decade of experience providing research and advisory services and creating thought leadership content, with a focus on IT infrastructure and data management and protection. Her vantage point spans technology and vendor portfolio developments; customer buying behavior trends; and vendor ecosystems, go-to-market positioning, and business models. Her work has appeared in major publications including eWeek, TechTarget and The Register.

Prior to joining The Futurum Group, Krista led the data center practice for Evaluator Group and the data center practice of analyst firm Technology Business Research. She also created articles, product analyses, and blogs on all things storage and data protection and management for analyst firm Storage Switzerland and led market intelligence initiatives for media company TechTarget.

Krista holds a Bachelor of Arts in English Journalism with a minor in Business Administration from the University of New Hampshire.

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