Mobile-mesh software company PacketHop this week made its first customer announcement: the Lakewood, N.J., Police Department, which deployed the solution during a music festival last fall and has plans for a more complete rollout this year.

During the September festival—Wingstock ’06 at FirstEnergy Park—police loaded PacketHop’s mesh-networking software on computers at its command post and on ruggedized computers in eight police cruisers, each of which also featured an analog video recording system and were strategically located.

Operating on 4.9 GHz spectrum dedicated for public-safety use, the PacketHop solution created a broadband mobile mesh network between all of these computers, which shared real-time multicast video, GPS resource tracking, multimedia instant messaging and whiteboarding applications.

By monitoring video surveillance from the unmanned police cruisers off site and employing K-9 units, the Lakewood police department was able to provide security for the area using just 10 police officers at the event.

“Overall, it gave us many more eyes than we had officers we were able to deploy—it really serves as a force multiplier,” said Fred Capper, Lakewood’s deputy chief of police. “People at the event told us that they thought there were a lot more police officers out there than there were.”

PacketHop President and CEO Michael Howse said Lakewood spent about $3,000 to $5,000 per police cruiser to enable the vehicles to provide “virtual eyes” that could be shared with each other and with the command post. In addition to bettering police interoperability and coordination at the event, Lakewood’s investment in the mobile-mesh technology already has exhibited notable financial benefits.

"The communications system also improves officer utilization, resulting in significant cost savings,” Lakewood Police Chief Robert C. Lawson said in a prepared statement. “Using PacketHop during events for video surveillance in unmanned police cruisers saves the police department $3,000 per event in overtime costs."

With this kind of return on investment, Lakewood has decided to deploy PacketHop’s solution in all 37 patrol cars by the end of the year, said Robert DiSimone, a patrolman in the Lakewood police department.

“During these times, it’s rare to be able to improve technology and save money down the road, too,” DiSimone said, noting that the fact that PacketHop’s system could be loaded onto the department’s existing hardware was critical for financial and logistical reason.

PacketHop is hopeful other public-safety agencies have similar sentiments. While the California-based company has garnered attention by participating in a couple of notable communications exercises exhibiting the capabilities of its technology, the performance of its mobile-mesh software was spotty when utilized in the unlicensed 2.4 GHz band, where interference proved to be a significant limitation.

But three years worth of improvements to the system—most notably, optimized quality of service for video and cellular data networking support that makes backhaul accessible from most locations—and expansion to the licensed 4.9 GHz band has Howse believing that “we’ve found the magic formula” for public safety. By operating in the 4.9 GHz spectrum, PacketHop has realized significantly greater range and reliability in the 2.0 version of its software released in August.

“The 50 MHz of licensed spectrum at 4.9 GHz is pretty much critical for all these mission-critical, real-time applications that involve officers whose lives are on the line,” Howse said. “Interference at 2.4 GHz makes it impractical for mission-critical applications.”