Public safety vehicles need to be always online!


For many years, public safety organisations around the world have implemented land mobile radio systems (LMRS) to improve the communication capabilities of their field operations. Some nations have been the forerunners in this area, boosting digital networks with excellent coverage throughout their respective countries. Others are slower to adapt, with rollouts still ongoing in many territories. These systems, whether TETRA, TETRAPOL or P25 technologies, were designed for specific public safety voice applications and often use technology similar to the first digital mobile networks. Although the systems provided a great improvement over voice-only services, their networks now face great limitations due to very low data capacities. Data traffic carried over digital LMRS networks may even jeopardise the primary voice services.

The data solution required today must improve the main functionality of voice while simultaneously offering data communication that meets the capacity and requirements of public safety. The requirements for current and future critical data connectivity are:

  • Coverage;
  • Availability;
  • Data integrity;
  • Session persistence;
  • Cost efficiency; and
  • Interoperability.
What are the used services?

The required services are the key reason to implement new data connectivity. Services that are needed today within public safety vehicles include:

  • Image and file transfer;
  • Location-based services;
  • Database queries;
  • Biometric checks; and
  • Video streaming.
Information sharing between different public safety operations is a valuable tool for increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of these service providers. This means collecting, sharing and forwarding data between databases controlled by different jurisdictions or pure command centre interoperability. These important applications are impossible to implement within the technological limitations of traditional voice and SMS-type data services. It is obvious that broadband capabilities that fit public safety requirements are essential in order to improve efficiency. This creates the next dilemma: what is required from a police broadband solution technically, and how can we afford it?

Using multiple networks is the "blue ocean" of critical connectivity

Utilising multiple networks simultaneously is the key to using these new data applications efficiently. The idea is to combine two or more relatively well-functioning networks into one connection that meets the requirements of field operations. Multi-channel router technology offers the means to utilise existing parallel commercial and/or private networks. Multi-channel routers need to be populated with several wireless terminals supporting a wide variety of different radio technologies or operators’ networks, and directing mission-critical traffic should always be performed using the best connection available. This enables the minimization of investment into new and expensive networks and does not require necessarily allocated frequencies for public safety.

Services used

As a first example, the services police authorities use with the data connection are many and varied, with the future offering seemingly limitless capabilities. The first step is to enable a basic functionality (e.g. enabling e-mails with larger data files to be sent without interruption). The increased data capacity also significantly improves situational awareness (e.g. seeing in real time where all other units are and what their status is). With broadband data for police vehicles capabilities, it is possible to drastically expand the area within which units can be surveyed. Other immediately accessible services include real-time blogging, where units can write their observations to specific shared pages on a region by region basis. This service in particular has been extremely well received. The safe connection eventually enables easier and secure sharing of confidential information. It is possible to call up a suspect’s criminal record, any outstanding/previous fines, or even vehicle information. With this approach, all the needed tasks can be performed on the spot, while required documents can be created and printed immediately. This includes a wide variety of tasks, including:

  • Reporting an offence;
  • On-the-spot fines;
  • Sentence claims;
  • Preliminary investigations;
  • Crime enquiries;
  • Technical investigations;
  • Weapon register checks;
  • Personal ID checks; and
  • Passport checks.
The use of broadband in ambulances is somewhat similar. The hospital district needs to chart patients and share data in real time in order to more easily manage ambulance trauma workflow and analyse patient data. The applications used help hospitals realise significant clinical and operational benefits, as well as improving performance and quality. It is even possible to capture data using a touchscreen interface, making charting quick, accurate and comprehensive. The applications enable hospitals and staff to see the status of all patients, including real-time information from charting in the field. It is also possible to use a workflow management system that allows agencies to manage EMS through review and approvals, ultimately replacing the paper trail. The hospital district can then use pre-built server reports and a powerful data analytics package to observe trends and effect change.

Ambulances are outfitted with docking stations and tablet PCs. Data is entered via touch or voice recognition. Paramedics can send patient data in real time to the hospital, but more than this, the system allows users to quickly and accurately capture and relay far more information than a manual method via paper charts. The patient data is then available instantly to the emergency department and clinical audit staff.

Is this economically viable?

Is a multiple network approach an expensive solution due to hardware and software pricing, as well as due to high network data costs? To answer this, one should look at the costs of the whole unit on the wheels. Whether it’s an ambulance or a police car, one can add the costs of two persons in the vehicle to the vehicle costs, easily making between €100 and €200 per hour. The issue with the broadband connectivity is efficiency. Can we use this expense more efficiently if we have a reliable broadband to the vehicle? Yes, we can.

For work efficiency improvement the clue is whether the users actually begin their work on the move. If the connectivity is not good enough, no matter how cheap, the applications will not be used and the availability levels should always be more than 99% – in many cases up to 99.9% is required. Only this high availability assures the office application usage and makes the ‘office on the wheels’ concept a reality.

The future is now

It has been proven by many implementations around the world that the high data rate and high availability broadband services offer are a tremendous advantage to public safety operations in the field. This is a direct response from users that have used the technology for years. The applications constantly demand more bandwidth, as well as those currently available. In the future, online streaming video will be the killer application.

Additionally, intelligence cannot remain in the vehicle’s on-board computer. This means that safe and high availability access to central databases is a must. A managed multichannel routing solution is the future-proof answer to these needs, and no huge upfront investments are needed: one can start easily with multiple commercial operators and the links can be upgraded to new dedicated networks when they emerge. A wonderful benefit of Goodmill is that it can use any available network technologies now and in the future, provided that there are modems available.

From a monetary point of view, the approach is rock solid. The payback is only weeks due to improved operational efficiency and, most importantly, the solution has been proven to save not only time and money but also lives.

Juhani Lehtonen
Vice-president, Sales and Marketing
Goodmill Systems Ltd
+358 50 572 5542