Oct 23, 2013

Police Office on the Wheels

The efficiency demands for public services are continuously increasing. Public safety operators and specifically police are heavily impacted with this. One of the most interesting improvements is to move all possible office activities in the vehicles. The benefits of this are clear.

  • No work duplication
  • Improved officer safety
  • More time on the field
  • Better customer service
  • Better work satisfaction

Target is to improve the time spent on the field and show more presence to the community.  Driving is minimized due to less needed visits to the precincts and savings come through petrol and other vehicle costs, too.

The simple solution often thought of is just to have a computer in the vehicle with a broadband connection. The computers can be either fixed in the car, portables or even tablets. The connectivity is mostly a commercial broadband network or in some cases a dedicated public safety broadband network. In most of the implementations the enthusiasm after the pilots has been killed due to problems in used applications and connectivity. The problem lies in the set-up. We need to understand that if we demand office work in the vehicle, the implemented concept has to provide office quality operability.

Demands of data connectivity in the office and the mobile network functionality

The user satisfaction of mobile connectivity is a combination of many things that are illustrated below.

If we take granted that the used police office applications are at the level that gives enough user satisfaction, only what effects are the changes needed for taking the same work in the car. This all culminates to availability, resilience and capacity of the wireless connectivity.

The challenge the mobile networks create for vehicle connectivity is the amount and length of breaks in data streams. This is almost always misunderstood, since the overall network availability is based on customer experience on availability of voice service. However, mobile broadband data access to a moving vehicle is a totally different ball game. Here a well representing summary of more than 400 days of testing in Europe.

In this table are included 12 vehicles with multichannel routers. Each router monitors and examines the availability of 3 different commercial broadband network providers availability. Each color corresponds with a different provider. The availability vary a great deal between operators, but most importantly the availability of different operators in different locations varies a great deal. Additionally, the daily changes in operator availability even in the same location vary. After international tests and pilots as well as full scale implementation, it looks like the operators' availability figures are very similar all over the world.

One important additional outcome of the tests has been that the connectivity is lost from tens to hundred times over a single 12 hour shift. When the average break length over single network is from about 10 seconds to 10’s of minutes, it is clear that over a single network the required standard of office connectivity is not met. When trying to do the office tasks in the car, the users get frustrated and eventually will abandon the tasks. The inadequate user satisfaction of the system creates frustration and will eventually not be used.

Securing the user friendliness

There are four solutions considered to overcome the challenge of availability. The first one is to implement application that can tolerate the breaks. The second is to use roaming SIM-cards that switch between networks. The third one is to use dual SIM modems and the fourth is to use multichannel routers with multiple active network connections.

The first alternative, using applications that tolerate connectivity breaks, does not solve the problem when in contact with the needed databases. Despite that the sessions are not interrupted; there is no data transfer to enable the needed actions. One roaming SIM-card is also problematic. Roaming between networks needs quite a lot of time, from 15 seconds to even minutes. Two SIMs in the same modem creates similar problems than the roaming SIM. Only after the first network alternative is lost, starts the equipment to search for alternative connections. This takes same amount of time as one SIM roaming and with this the user frustration is guaranteed.

The only viable solution is to select two to even four networks for a multichannel routing solution. In this approach all the networks are monitored and their availability and performance is known to the system at all times. When the connectivity is degraded or lost, the system automatically switches to use the best network available. When network switch over times are just 1-3 seconds and the sessions persist, the outcome is availability comparable to office. The bundled availability over the 12 routers in our case was proven to be excellent.

In these tests the result of 99,70% to 99.99% have proven to provide for user friendly availability. This leads to users recognizing the help of the system for their day to day work.

The future of broadband in vehicles

The multiband approach has proven to be useful and effective in moving police work in the cars. The savings through efficiency can be calculated to have payback periods of less than 8 weeks when only working time savings are calculated. This approach also enables all the other needed public safety vehicle functionality including online Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR), online streaming video and advanced operation control applications. We see that the similar approach will also be used in ambulances with less daily office applications, but improved emergency connectivity and support to the vehicles instead. Not far in the future are various utility organizations that will demand more office tasks executed in the vehicles. A common theme is to bring the office on the road.

What is very important to remember is that there are now "low end" and "high end" office on the wheels concepts. The office work quality demands determine the standard and it is the high availability that's always needed. Otherwise it will never fly!

Juhani Lehtonen
Goodmill Systems Ltd.

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