I recently conducted an interview with security industry veteran Michael Kemp about connectivity issues for the Security Industry Association (SIA).
Many people may be familiar with initiatives, such as FirstNet, which bring public safety systems into the Internet of Things through a single wireless broadband connection. Still, they may not understand the other wireless options that are out there for public safety. Can you tell us about some of them, their strengths and weaknesses and what role, if any, LTE plays?
MK: It is essential to understand that several of the options out there are complementary and not competitive. Some of the best-performing and most reliable networks I have encountered utilize multiple wireless options to achieve coverage, bandwidth and reliability for the numerous applications traversing public safety networks.
- Licensed Part 101 Band Point-to-Point: Licensed point-to-point microwave radios have been around for almost 100 years. If your public safety network requires a high-capacity (1Gbps full duplex or more) point-to-point connection, a Part 101 band licensed link is a good option. Additionally, while most users of licensed Part 101 band radio systems that are assigned an available frequency pair pay a licensing fee, this is often waived for public safety. It is not unusual for state, county, and local governments to utilize this technology for backhaul in place of fiber or as spurs off their fiber network. Licensed point-to-point radio systems vary widely in cost, with the most capable exceeding $20,000 per link. This may or may not include installation costs and frequency coordination fees.
- V-Band Point-to-Point: V-Band microwave radios operate in the 60 GHz spectrum. They are becoming popular in areas of the network that require high bandwidth (1Gbps to 10Gbps full duplex) but do not have to traverse great distances. While some Part 101 band radios have a range of as much as 20 miles, V-Band radio technology is a limited distance solution that is susceptible to rain fade and a phenomenon known as oxygen absorption at 60GHz. While V-Band in most areas is license-exempt, the oxygen absorption allows for high-density deployments in most cases.
- Part 15, Part 90 Point-to-Point/Point-to-Multipoint/Mesh: Beginning in the late 1990s, manufacturers began offering wide area network radio systems. These systems are often set up in point-to-point, point-to-multipoint and mesh topologies, depending on the application. Part 15 radio systems operate in the license-exempt spectrum at 5GHz, 2.4GHz and 900MHz. Part 90 radios operating in the 4.9GHz spectrum in the United States and some other countries are reserved for public safety and cannot be shared with other users. These types of systems are typically deployed at street level to connect IP devices that can assist law enforcement, such as IP video surveillance cameras, gunshot detection, and LIDAR. Mesh technology adds the capability of mobile broadband connections on a private network. Mesh technology radios are the most flexible as they can be deployed in all three of the topologies just mentioned. True mesh radios can also offer mobile-to-mobile connections and can be used in drones for drone-to-drone mesh connections as well as drone-to-ground. Mesh technology can also be deployed in a wearable form factor so that that first responders can be directly connected to the public safety network in a variety of applications.
- Long-Term Evolution (LTE): LTE is still in the relatively early stages of supporting public safety. It is and will continue to be a vital element for critical communications. LTE is a complementary technology, not a single technology in a network. It is a standards-based air interface, so interoperability among devices from different manufacturers is a nice feature, although that is less of a benefit in public safety. The frequency of operation dictates how much area a single LTE base station can cover. The Federal Communications Commission has recently ratified new rules for the Citizens Band Radio Service, which runs between 3550 and 3700 MHz. This band, historically – albeit under different rules – was a preferred band for wireless internet service providers and used radios with a WIMAX air interface. Under the new rules, a public safety organization can deploy a private LTE network at a lower cost than service from a carrier with recurring expenses.
Why are redundancy and bandwidth necessary when it comes to selecting a network provider? What are examples of technology applications for public safety that require both?
MK: IP video surveillance and mobile broadband connectivity are two applications that require redundancy and high bandwidth. Mobile broadband connections in support of high-bandwidth applications in a vehicle or any mobile element in a public safety network is a growing application. Providing redundancy and high bandwidth is especially challenging in a mobile environment. It is well served by a mesh network, which can provide high bandwidth and redundancy through multiple, simultaneous connections at different frequencies to every network mesh node. As for IP video surveillance cameras, a significant amount of throughput capacity is required, depending on frame rate and resolution. Offline cameras are useless as they are typically monitored and recorded at a central location. I am aware of municipalities where as much as 50 percent of the camera network is offline because of poor product choices, plus inferior network design and installation.
Not all connectivity providers and options are created equal, especially when it comes to mesh networks. Can you provide a checklist for chief security officers (CSOs) and another for municipalities? What are the questions to ask a provider before making a purchase decision?
MK: Many of the issues cross over between the private sector and municipalities, but I have separated them by focusing security questions on the CSO side.
- Does the solution offer multiple encryption options?
- Does the solution have separate data and MAC address encryption?
- Does the solution provide durable encryption options, such as AES256?
- Does the solution have per-packet authentication between wireless devices?
- How are the devices in your wireless solution managed? (Some consider management via web browser to be a security risk.)
- For outdoor deployments, is the solution, at a minimum, IP67 rated?
- If I have a 4.9GHz license, does the solution support the 4.9GHz public safety band?
- If my network is in a northern climate, does the solution operate at temperatures down to -40 degrees Celsius?
- It gets sweltering in my region. Does the product work up to 70 degrees Celsius?
- Does the solution support mobility with no loss of data during handoffs?
- Does the solution offer both multiple VLAN support and QoS functionality?
- Some of my hub locations require multiple radios. Do you provide single enclosure, multiradio solutions?
When it comes to supporting security and safety robotics – air, land and sea – what must one be aware of when it comes to connectivity?
MK: There are several things to consider when selecting a network to support robotics:
- Security and safety robotics require redundant and resilient connections. If the connection is lost, the connected device will go into “safe” mode. It will stop. A robotic device that supports many wireless connections allows for many paths in and out. If a connection is lost, another path is available for data transmission/reception.
- The wireless device providing connectivity should have low power consumption so as not to heavily burden the onboard power source of the robotic device.
- In some cases, depending on environment and capacity/throughput requirements, a dual-radio wireless connection may be required. A dual-radio connection adds capacity and resilience to the wireless links to the robotic device.
- Security and safety applications should have robust over-the-air encryption. Military-grade encryption should be a requirement here.
- There is a benefit to security and safety robotic devices being able to communicate with one another. This could be for self-learning, data sharing and providing more wireless paths in the event one or more of the devices in an area do not have a direct wireless path to the network.
The views and opinions expressed in guest posts and/or profiles are those of the authors or sources and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SIA.