Authentication in 5G Wireline and Wireless Convergence (2019)

By Tao Wan & Max Pala, CableLabs; Yildirim Sahin, Charter Communications

5G is one of the hottest technologies being trialed and deployed by network operators worldwide. Not only does 5G provide the superior services of fast speed, high bandwidth, and low latency, it also supports new use cases. One of these use cases is support for wireline and wireless convergence (WWC).

In WWC, the 5G core manages both wireless access networks and wireline access networks (e.g., cable networks). This provides at least two benefits to residential network users. First, 5G user equipment with both cellular and Wi-Fi (WLAN) and/or wireline access can perform a seamless handover between cellular networks and residential networks. Second, residential user equipment without cellular access (e.g., a laptop or IoT devices at home) can also register to the 5G core to obtain services such as the Quality of Services (QoS) guarantee offered by 5G.

To enable WWC, authentication in cellular networks must evolve. More specifically, 5G authentication must allow the authentication of user equipment over wireline networks. This is in contrast to prior generations of cellular networks (e.g., 4G) which only allow authentication of subscribers over radio access networks. Further, 5G authentication must also allow user equipment without 3GPP credentials (e.g., a secret key stored in a UICC and shared with a network operator) to be authenticated by the 5Gcore. Prior generations of cellular networks authenticate only user equipment with 3GPP credentials.

In this paper, we provide a comprehensive analysis of 5G authentication that has been defined by 3GPP to support WWC. We include the 5G unified authentication framework which allows authentication to become agonistic to access networks and consistent between wireless and wireline networks. We also describe work-in-progress mechanisms that 3GPP is developing to authenticate non-3GPP-capable user equipment.

The rest of the paper is organized as follows. In Section 2, we provide background information on WWC.

In Section 3, we introduce the 5G authentication framework which supports multiple authentication methods over multiple access types. In Section 4, we focus on the authentication of network elements in WWC. We conclude the paper in Section 5.

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