It is time for a health-check of mobile tech’s building blocks

The mobile world is rightly full of excitement for new emerging business opportunities.

A quick look at the news from this month shows 6.5 billion euros paid for 5G spectrum licenses in Italy, and Vodafone and Telstra launching NB-IOT networks across Europe and Australia. The top of the mobile tech pyramid is new and shiny.

However, our attention was recently caught by the perhaps less glamorous part of the pyramid, the fundamental building blocks of mobile technology.

Take the signalling layer of mobile networks, Signalling System n.7 (abbreviated SS7) is still at the core of much of what mobile operators do, and was first conceived in 1975. At that the time, ideas such as the world wide web, the openness and reach of the Internet or cyberwar and hacking were hardly contemporary.

SS7 was based on the exclusive use by mutually trusting and interconnecting mobile operators. Little could they imagine that SS7 would result in a ‘lingua franca’ to power telephony, messaging but also entertainment, banking applications, security systems, and in so doing it would open up to a much wider set of players – some trustworthy, some not.

A contribution to MEF’s blog from Xconnect’s Lee Suker has recently reported another issue with mobile fundaments. This time with Personal Data Leaks that could be generated by accessing HLR lookup services.

The problem is serious, and many operators have dealt with it equally seriously. However, 1 in 3 operators has not yet addressed this security hole. This is another of the mobile building blocks, and it offers valuable services to the ecosystem, such as message routing, or checking SIM-Swap. 

While no major issue has been reported yet, hearing worrying murmurs on such an important part of the ecosystem should give us pause.  A solution needs to be considered with the participation of the full ecosystem.