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The future of connected vehicles in public safety

Essential features to plan for now

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The next generation of cellular and Wi-Fi technologies merge the speed of wired networks with the flexibility of wireless devices for the patrol vehicle becomes a mobile multimedia center.

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Sponsored by Cradlepoint

By Tom Mangan for Police1 BrandFocus

The police cruiser or fire truck of the future will be more than an office on wheels. It’ll be a digital multimedia center that delivers real-time situational awareness and always-on telemetry on the status of first-responder vehicles.

All this is coming with the next generation of cellular and Wi-Fi technologies that merge the speed of wired networks with the flexibility of wireless devices. Consumers are already enjoying super-fast wireless networks in metropolitan areas. These services will become more ubiquitous among police, fire and EMS agencies in the next few years.

Here’s a look at the technologies frontline first responders and their leadership will be working with — and the impacts on their day-to-day work:

High-bandwidth 5G mobile connectivity

Wireless service providers are implementing 5G, the fifth generation of cell-tower connectivity, in most metropolitan areas. 5G connectivity is considerably faster than 4G (also called LTE), allowing far more digital data to travel live over wireless networks.

This opens the potential for real-time streaming of live video feeds, an attractive option for police agencies using body cameras that activate automatically. “With bandwidth constraints often seen with 4G, officers usually have to drive back to the station to upload their video,” said Robin Manke-Cassidy, director of solution marketing with Cradlepoint, a leading provider of advanced wireless connectivity hardware and software.

Live, on-location streaming eliminates this chore. “Also, when officers are done with an incident, they can put their notes in the video stream while on location, so they don’t have to remember what happened later,” Manke-Cassidy added. “This saves time and aids in accurate record keeping.”

5G also can give supervisors real-time situational awareness, allowing for quicker, more informed decision making in chaotic, rapidly changing environments.

And that’s only part of the story. The rest is what’s happening with internet-of-things (IoT) connectivity. With IoT, live data feeds from license-plate cameras, drones, laptops, tablets, mobile phones and other devices can be analyzed in real time, boosting situational awareness. Telemetry data on the digital and mechanical health of vehicles plus components like tires, brakes and drive trains can be folded into these data feeds if necessary.

There’ll be so much more data that it’ll take a 5G network to handle it all.

Cloud convenience, usability and security

Software hosted in the cloud and broadcast over 5G networks will make computing far more convenient. This software is designed to be user-friendly and easy to operate in the field. And thanks to 5G, computing capabilities that previously required desktop PCs and wired networks can be done on mobile devices in emergency vehicles.

Two examples of cloud services in action:

  • Cell service visibility: Software can map all the 5G cell towers in a geographic area and identify their service providers. This tells technology teams at the home base how much bandwidth their vehicles have when they travel to specific locations. This kind of real-time intelligence is essential to providing fast live feeds during an emergency. This tech also can help locate vehicles or devices that lack GPS tracking capability.
  • Zero-trust network (ZTN) security: Zero-trust networking is a security framework that requires verification of every user and device on a network. When properly implemented, ZTN prevents hackers from sneaking around in networks – and breaching emergency vehicles – in search of valuable data to steal. ZTN can be complex because it must be set up to monitor the behaviors of potentially thousands of devices and users. The best cloud-based services help simplify the process and use automation to speed deployment and securing networked devices.

These services aspire to move technology to the background, giving frontline personnel better tools to get their work done.

“The vision is to make the technology in the vehicle and on the officers a non-issue,” Manke-Cassidy said. “They don’t need to think about it — it just needs to work the way they need it to work.”

Wireless wide area networking (WWAN) flexibility

Many public safety vehicles already use mobile hotspots to add cell-signal connectivity to laptops or other mobile devices. These consumer-grade hotspots are fine for connecting a single device to a 4G network. But they cannot create a wireless wide area network (WWAN), which is essential to fulfilling the promise of 5G in public safety.

The core technology of WWAN is a mobile router that communicates over 5G signals from a cell tower and efficiently distributes digital data among connected devices. A single router mounted to the roof of a fire truck, for instance, could provide Wi-Fi inside and out, managing data transmission from multiple nearby vehicles and all their attached devices.

These routers can prove crucial to maintaining internet connectivity in emergencies like hurricanes or earthquakes that take down power grids.

How the best 5G wireless routers improve public safety operations

A 5G wireless router is essentially a radio transceiver that extends connectivity to any device within its range. Hardware and the software controlling it must satisfy an extensive list of requirements.

“Everything needs to be really easy to manage in extremely demanding environments — police cars, fire trucks, you name it,” said Paul Rodeghiero, senior product marketing manager with Cradlepoint.

To deliver in mission-critical public safety scenarios, these routers should be:

  • Adaptable. Ideally, a 5G router handles cell signals from top providers and enables local area networks (LANs) for Wi-Fi connectivity.
  • Secure. 5G routers typically include a firewall for basic security. The firewall must have high-enough throughput (900 Mbps, for example) to ensure security does not compromise network performance.
  • User friendly. Software supporting the device should provide a full suite of cloud-based services such as analytics, threat management and GPS tracking. Interfaces should be intuitive and simple to learn and operate.
  • Comprehensive. All functions come in a single package that’s easy to install with power over ethernet (PoE) or a conventional power cable.
  • Rugged. First responders’ equipment faces extreme temperatures, physical shock and moisture. Any hardware deployed in emergency vehicles should be ruggedized to face these conditions while still performing flawlessly.
  • Aerodynamic. Roof-mounted 5G routers should be designed to reduce drag on moving vehicles.

“Many police cars still use hotspot devices or USB modems plugged into laptops,” Rodeghiero said. “It’s pretty complicated to manage in one car — but imagine doing that with a thousand devices.”

That’s the future of 5G connectivity when safety vehicles become mobile multimedia centers: The unimaginable becomes manageable.

Visit Cradlepoint for more information.

Register now: Webinar: Blueprint for nonstop Wi-Fi and cellular access in emergency vehicles