Important considerations for making your fleet connections faster and more reliable
There’s been a lot of hype recently surrounding 5G, and that attention continues to grow as 5G begins to roll out across the country. But why should emergency service agencies be paying attention?
Police and other emergency services are using connected devices more than ever and rely on stable and secure access to mission-critical information to do their jobs. Consider data transfer from connected vehicles and drones, including video cameras, licence plate readers and other applications that are much more effective when sent to the cloud for processing for immediate situational awareness. Add on top of that what officers now wear on their person including body cameras and sensors that read when a gun is removed from a holster. All this information can help save the life of first responders and enable them to assist the community more effectively. Any interruption in connectivity that delays vital information from getting where it’s needed can put first responders, the public and property at risk.
Unfortunately, North American emergency services don’t always experience the reliable connections they need. According to a survey by Cradlepoint of North American police, emergency medical services, fire and rescue and local government agencies, 53 per cent reported losing critical connectivity or having poor vehicle network connections (in the three months prior to being surveyed).
While 5G is most often discussed in the context of its consumer applications, 5G will really be a transformational technology for first responder and smart city applications. In fact, when it comes to speed, low latency, reliability and agility, 5G surpasses any wired or wireless area network (WAN) option. 5G bandwidth is now fibre-fast and the mobility of cellular connectivity will enable it to touch most operational points of a business — from immersive applications to vehicles to Internet of Things (IoT). With so many devices requiring a wireless connection, emergency services could be an industry that benefits most from 5G connectivity supporting all their applications.
The vehicle connection
One of the most promising developments is in 5G connected vehicles. Organizations – including emergency services organizations, transit providers, trucking companies and even mining organizations – are connecting vehicles via cellular broadband. Wireless WAN connectivity provides the ability to connect video cameras and on-board IoT devices to vital applications and the cloud, from anywhere. Additionally, vehicles equipped with Wireless WAN also carry around a fast, reliable Wi-Fi connection which allows them to a have a virtual office at all times.
A recent global IDG survey of IT decision-makers found the average number of vehicles in organizations’ fleets has not changed since 2020, but the number of vehicles equipped with wireless edge solutions has grown by 10 per cent. That number is poised to grow, according to 76 per cent of those surveyed (up from 58 per cent a year ago). Additionally, more than a third of respondents indicated they need greater bandwidth for their in-vehicle network connectivity. Of the Canadian organizations surveyed, 50 per cent of those using 4G/5G connectivity indicated they’re using it specifically to connect vehicles.
However, vehicle connectivity is not without its challenges. Connecting a static building is one thing. Connecting a fast-moving car is another and can complicate the process of getting a 5G signal. With that in mind, it’s important to understand some of the basic principles of 5G connectivity before making any decisions about upgrading fleet vehicles to the latest connectivity.
Police organizations investing in connected technology need to think long-term.
As 5G becomes more of a reality and in-vehicle networks continue to grow, here are eight things to consider before investing in 5G for fleets.
Performance – Although antennae are a factor to consider when looking at the performance of a vehicle router, fast performance is one of the most distinguishing features of 5G. The coverage and capacity layer spectrum promise better performance than typical 4G networks. Even when entering areas that are not currently covered by 5G, devices are able to switch over to 4G LTE CAT20 – the fastest version of 4G – to continue to provide fast performance. When moving to 5G, it’s important to have a solution that will support the performance of a full range of 5G spectrum both now and in the future. Fleet managers shouldn’t accept sub-par performance by using a product that wasn’t built for 5G.
Cloud-based management – With many vehicles not only constantly on the move, but also spread out geographically, it’s not feasible for IT and fleet management to always visit vehicles to manage connection problems, configuration changes and security updates. This creates two problems. First, poorly timed software updates can result in disruption to personnel and impact the speed and quality of service. Second, and perhaps more concerning, is that IT teams are limited in how they can resolve potential cybersecurity vulnerabilities. Cloud management enabled by a cellular connection provides full visibility into entire fleet via a single-pane-of-glass interface. This centralized, remote management capability allows IT teams to access vehicle location in real-time and push out configuration and security updates when they’re needed, not when a vehicle is physically accessible.
Experience – As 5G is a new technology, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of experience. 5G is a very different technology to 4G, and it’s therefore crucial to make sure any commissioned vendors have not only worked with 4G LTE but also with 5G. By working with an experienced vendor, fleet managers can ensure their vehicles aren’t being used as a testing site for implementing first-generation technology.
Size – Good things come in small packages, and that should hold true for vehicle routers. For example, some emergency services or agencies may consider new form factors, such as an innovative router-on-the-roof that integrates the modem, antennas, and router into a single casing. It’s essential the 5G router still leaves room for all the other new technology being packed into a fleet’s vehicles. At the same time, fleet managers should ensure they’re not compromising on functionality elsewhere – features such as high-speed ethernet ports, Wi-Fi radios, Bluetooth, and a full security stack (see below) – should still be included in the routers.
Security – With the amount of technology in vehicles, security breaches are an ever-growing concern. A major benefit of using a 5G or LTE-enabled router over USB modems or hotspots is the security layer the router adds, which limits the risk of malicious actors accessing Internet of Things (IoT) devices in vehicles and of data such as location information being accessed. As more and more devices are added to an organization’s network, the potential for cyberattack increases. It is critical to be able to detect and isolate threats and manage their connected devices, disrupting cybercriminals efforts to compromise systems or corrupt, delete, or hold critical data hostage.
Breadth – It’s important to consider a fleet of vehicles in the context of its fixed and temporary locations. Is a separate network required with separate management and security policies? Or a cohesive edge encompassing all locations and IoT installations instead? The latter is the better option. Sharing a common platform between fixed locations, temporary locations, vehicles and IoT installations allows for consistent management and policies as well as a shared data plan across the entire network. And by having a solution that has been proven for all types of locations it allows mobile networks to take advantage of networking technologies such as SD-WAN, SASE, and analytics that are more prevalent in the branch but just as important for vehicle networks.
Edge computing – While cloud-based management is critical, there is also a benefit in having compute power in the routers themselves. In tech industry parlance, this is “edge computing” – simply, computing that happens physically close to the source of data, in this case inside a vehicle. Vehicles are loaded with sensors and can move in and out of connectivity, making edge computing important. By putting intelligence in the router, decisions can be made locally and triggering events can be acted upon quickly, whether internet access exists or not. It is important that fleet managers consider edge computing needs along with the connectivity needs when looking at new vehicle solutions. However, there is no need to treat vehicle edge computing as disconnected from cloud computing. Technologies such as docker-style containers allow fleet businesses to deploy modular logic across different platforms such as Microsoft Azure IoT Central, or AWS Greengrass to access to AWS services from vehicles.
Dual-modem connectivity – Using diverse network links is important in fixed locations, as a single link can fail, leaving the network without a viable connection. This is a fundamental premise of SD-WAN. And with vehicles moving around, the risk of a failure is compounded by the possibility of moving out of a single carrier’s coverage area. Having dual modems allows a fleet to connect to two different cellular networks, enabling seamless network failover to ensure connectivity at all times.
There are other considerations to consider when moving to 5G: determining which carriers are offering 5G, negotiating rate plans, understanding your coverage maps, determining failover scenarios, understanding how to manage even more edge devices and routers—never mind how an expanded attack surface can be protected. By picking the right provider to support the fleet, police services can ensure their investment in the upgrade is well spent and will keep up with network evolutions as they happen.
Investing for the future
Police organizations investing in connected technology need to think long-term. Is the technology flexible enough to support the evolving applications that will help them work faster and more effectively? Without a reliable and secure LTE and 5G network, the ROI associated with connected technologies will never be realized.
As 5G adoption rates continue to rise, IDC predicts that globally by 2024, “wireless first” will be mainstream for wide area connectivity, accelerating 65 per cent of enterprise, industrial and public sector organization investments to “untether” their operations. Police organizations should be aware of this trend and look for ways 5G connectivity can support the connected technologies they use now and will need in the future. Beyond mobile applications, it’s an excellent solution for stations, offices and other permanent locations that need a reliable, always-on connection.
“Trend Report: The Value of Cellular Broadband for Mission-Critical Communication.” Cradlepoint. January 2021. Accessed at https://resources.cradlepoint.com/white-papers/the-value-of-cellular-broadband-for-mission-critical-communication.
“State of Wireless WAN 2022 Report.” Cradlepoint. April 2022. Accessed at https://resources.cradlepoint.com/wireless-wan/state-of-wireless-wan-2022-report.
Jason Falovo is Vice President and General Manager, Canada at Cradlepoint, a leader in cloud-delivered LTE and 5G wireless network edge solutions.
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