FirstNet, Cradlepoint help Indiana agencies address connectivity issues during response efforts
Indiana public-safety agencies are using FirstNet and Cradlepoint mobile routers—both in-vehicle and pelican-case solutions—to quickly establish broadband connectivity in almost any location without the need for satellite backhaul, according to state official.
Tyler Clements, field service coordinator for the state of Indiana Integrated Public Safety Commission (IPSC), said the IPSC is using Cradlepoint COR Series mobile router solutions with FirstNet Ready™ MC400 modems for mobile command networks established for planned events and emergency response. Broadband access helps command personnel coordinate activities on many levels, from communicating with personnel in the field to using social media to keep the general public updated about an ongoing situation, he said.
Applications to address such situations have been available for years, but they only became operationally practical when IPSC switched to FirstNet service with priority and pre-emption in March 2018, Clements said. While Cradlepoint offered routers—primarily designed to be installed in vehicles—IPSC sought a different form factor that users could carry to a scene, he said.
“When we first spoke with Cradlepoint, they told us about some of the products that were out there, and we told them, ‘We’re looking for one item that we can put in a pelican case, set up, get electricity to it, and off you go [with broadband connectivity],’” Clement said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “That’s exactly what you get with the Cradlepoint—it doesn’t require the satellite backhaul to be active, so it’s immediate.”
“We created these kits on our own. Basically, it’s simply a Cradlepoint IBR1700 in a protected case, and it has the adapters that are needed. Whether you mount this in your vehicle or you want to keep it in your vehicle as a deployment tool, it has all of the wall adapters or cigarette-lighter adapters for some of the smaller Cradlepoint accessories or for the units themselves. It’s simply another way to protect it when we transport.”
Benefits from this approach quickly became apparent, Clements said.
“We first deployed this at our state-level exercise, which was in June-July of 2018,” he said. “It was a recovery exercise, so it was heavily focused on putting in some of the items of damage assessments and some of the recovery items that needed to be sent back to the state EOC, so it was heavily reliant on data. This broadband piece delivered that.”
Clements said the Cradlepoint solution also was deployed at the Terre Haute Air Show, where significant rain during the first two days of the event required regular coordination between event organizers, security personnel and attendees to inform everyone, so they could make adjustments in the face of oft-changing plans and schedules.
“There were a lot of issues with delivering social media and how to connect our incident-management teams that were working in mobile-command centers,” Clements said. “Just by hooking up a Cradlepoint that was not even hooked up to a vehicle—it was just plugged into a wall—it was just moments until those folks had the connectivity they needed to stream on FirsNet and the social-media platforms. We’re talking about taking users that aren’t yet FirstNet users, but we were able to share the broadband connectivity with them through a Wi-Fi connection.”
Such usage of the Cradlepoint solution also opened the eyes of many participating public-safety officials about the effectiveness and potential uses of FirstNet in other settings, Clements said.
“Their reaction was, ‘As soon as we go back to our local agency, we need to look into getting FirstNet, so that we no longer have to worry about somebody else providing us this tool; it should be on our devices, ready to go,’” he said.
Clements said the pelican-case version of the Cradlepoint router not only has been useful in event-specific use cases; it also is impacting day-to-day operations.
“It’s changed the way we operate on a daily basis,” Clements said. “Not only do we have this connectivity in vehicles, where we can reduce the number of devices that need SIM cards, such as iPads and some of the tablets that are out there. The main thing is that—as opposed to just using this in an emergency or a deployment—we can take it into a meeting or take it into any outreach scenario where we need to share this connectivity.”
When the Cradlepoint router is mounted inside a vehicle, high-gain antennas mounted outside the vehicle help ensure connectivity, but even the antennas included in the pelican-case version of the router solution have proven to be effective, Clements said.
“The on-board antennas that come with it are just as powerful—even in buildings and basements—as a vehicle-mounted antenna,” he said. “We have not had one instance where we could not get a signal with that unit.”
Although the pelican-case solution used in Indiana today does not include satellite backhaul, Clements said he is looking forward to the release of the Rapid Deployment Kits. Announced at APCO 2018, each of these pelican-case packages will include a Cradlepoint router, four Sonim Technologies handsets and has an Inmarsat satellite link available that can supply backhaul when the unit is outside of the FirstNet coverage footprint.
Clements said that the effectiveness of FirstNet and Cradlepoint routers have caused some entities that require occasional coordination with first responders —for instance, schools or large enterprises—to reconsider whether using limited funds on expensive LMR equipment is the most cost-effective option.
“We’re really starting to get a lot of questions from school resource officers and schools,” Clements said. “It may be an agency that may not have the money to purchase radios, but they can come onto FirstNet as a primary or an extended-primary user and be able to utilize these services and augment them to a radio system.
“I think that this is one huge push here in Indiana—that this could benefit our school resource officers, as well as officers that are off duty at manufacturing or factory locations throughout the state.”
This option is particularly compelling when state-negotiated pricing for FirstNet and heavily subsidized subscriber devices are factored into the decision equation for entities that can be very sensitive to communications costs, Clements said.
“You’re talking about thousands of dollars for [an LMR] radio,” Clements said. “Here in Indiana, we’re really proud of the aggressive pricing we’ve worked out for FirstNet. They can purchase a Sonim XP8 [ruggedized LTE smartphone] for 99 cents, connect with the ongoing FirstNet cost, and deploy that with any app that they would need.
“That’s a huge price [differential] as compared to a land mobile radio.”