Surrey Police harnesses broadband applications

Surrey Police has been working with Airwave to trial its 4GMax product, which bundles bandwidth from commercial mobile networks together to enable data applications, such as video streaming, from the field. James Atkinson reports

Surrey Police harnesses broadband applications

Surrey Police has been trialling a new Airwave product called 4GMax, which provides secure and resilient high-speed data on demand for the emergency services by bundling together the signal strength from multiple mobile operators.

Andy Lloyd, ANPR data manager, Surrey Police, says: ‘We’ve been working with Airwave for 18 months and we both bring something different to the table. Airwave brings technology, R&D and expertise, while we bring the operational testing environment and the ability to identify the benefits and cost savings.’

 

Boosting the uplink

Euros Evans, CTO, Airwave Solutions, concurs: ‘What is really important is how Surrey Police actually use this, as we can then focus on the real benefits it brings the users. We know there is a growing demand for leveraging data, so we’ve been trying to accelerate how we can use it. What apps are mission critical? Which ones make the difference?’

Public safety users tend to have a greater appetite to upload data from the field, such as streaming video from a police car in pursuit back to the control room. But for that you need more bandwidth on the uplink.

Mobile networks are asynchronous, however, and provide more bandwidth on the downlink. 4GMax overcomes the issue of limited uplink (and downlink) bandwidth by combining bandwidth from up to four commercial mobile networks.

By bundling different mobile networks together, 4GMax delivers increased uplink capacity enabling applications, such as live video streaming from vehicles on the move. It also provides an effective alternative to satellite communications or fixed links.

4GMax intelligently manages the use of each of the Sims, which reduces the likelihood of interrupted service and provides greater resilience. ‘The data packets are split and spread across the different networks enabling greater capacity and speed. It’s a secure solution, because no one party has all the data while it is in transit,’ says Evans.

Airwave has two products available now, a two-Sim box and a four-Sim box, which are mounted in the vehicles. Data packets are split between the networks with one usually assigned the primary role. However, if one network drops out the other(s) will ensure transmission continues.

4GMax is smart enough to compensate for ‘lost’ packets caused by a dropped network. It will halt the other packets, retrieve the lost ones and send them in a way that ensures the aggregated packets arrive in the right sequence. On screen, this has the appearance of a slight blurring effect.

 

Wi-Fi hotspot

The 4GMax box can also push Wi-Fi out to enable it to become a Wi-Fi hotspot, providing more bandwidth and additional flexibility. Separately, it can take Wi-Fi as an input from a public access Wi-Fi hotspot or from an access point put there deliberately by a public safety agency. It can assist with cellular connections or provide the connectivity itself, so a number of paths can be constructed.

Lloyd says Surrey has been experimenting with various applications including pursuit capability. ‘When we try and pull over a driver and they refuse and speed up, we have to make a judgment over the safety of the driver we are pursuing and the public around them. By streaming video from the pursuit car, command and control can advise on whether to stop or carry on depending on the risk assessment.

‘The incident commander may not be in the control room, but he could dial in via a laptop (even over 3G) and see what’s happening,’ says Lloyd. ‘What we are getting is accurate and timely information, which helps dynamic decision making.’

Airwave is currently working with Surrey Police on a mobile video pilot and enablement of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) data streaming using 4GMax.

ANPR vans used to use satellite, but it takes time to find a good connection, as the built up environment often disrupts the satellite and the system takes up to 30 minutes to deploy. But with 4GMax, they can quickly set up almost anywhere. They can also do much faster checking of vehicle licences in the van by accessing the police national database in the field.

Lloyd says Surrey is also investigating surveillance options. ‘We sometimes have the need to put temporary cameras in locations to monitor areas, but then we have to go to the camera and get out the Sim card or video and take it back to the office.

‘Now we can stream video in real time, depending on battery life, and it means we can leave it alone and have full access, but we don’t have to keep turning up to get the video and therefore potentially alerting the suspects. We can also pump the video back out into the field, so it can be remotely accessed by other field officers,’ says Lloyd. ‘The same goes for photogaphs.’

Evans is keen to emphasise that 4GMax is not a mission critical solution. ‘We are just trying to improve the bandwidth and resilience in the vehicle. If the Vodafone and O2 networks go down, it won’t work. This is a mechanism to improve what can be done today and help the emergency services use their limited budgets to best effect.

‘But if we can prove that it is being used for applications that should be mission critical, then we can now write the business case and demonstrate the capabilities and benefits to the public and to Government,’ says Lloyd. ‘4GMax enhances what we do, but it is not mission critical – and we’ve not touched on indoor coverage yet. We will still train people the same way with full radio training. Video is an enhancer, not a replacement for voice.’

Airwave is also working with Hampshire Fire & Rescue Service to deliver remote incident management capabilities and is expanding the 4GMax platform to the Ambulance Trusts, looking at uses such as patient telemetry.

 

Surrey Police mobile data capability

To enable mobile data access in the field, Surrey Police has been using Motorola ES400 PDAs with SOTI MobiControl for encryption and policy setting, and the Netmotion virtual private network (VPN) for secure data transfer over Vodafone’s GPRS/3G network. Some 900 users were trained in the new product, says Mike Jenkins, Mobile Data Project manager, Surrey Police.

Over the air applications include: driver licence checks; PNC (police national computer) name check; PNC vehicle search; command and control – search, view and update; quick address search; PNLD (police national legal database); and emails and calendars (officers can access these at home prior to going on duty).

The range of eNotebook applications include: data capture; stop and search form; RTA fixed penalty notices; cannabis warning notice; road traffic collisions and a range of vehicle tickets (no insurance, incorrect driving licence, driving using mobile phone etc) – in all about 20 processes are now on the device.

Officers carry a little mobile printer with them with a two roll receipt, which tells people why they have been stopped, how to pay fines and so on.

Jenkins says: ‘In the last six months we’ve started looking at more complex applications such as the Crime Investigation Report, where you will get multiple reports under one crime number; sudden death; domestic event; child/adult at risk; and missing person reports. Having the mobile devices means we can distribute information and photos much more quickly.’

However, Jenkins says the Motorola device is now three years old and some find it too small and fiddly (it uses Windows Mobile OS). Surrey is now trialling 20 Samsung Galaxy Note IIIs, which have a much bigger screen and are easier to use, as they run on the familiar Android platform. Wi-Fi will be enabled on the device shortly and Kelvin Connect eNotebook (pictured) software is being used for the eNotebook tools.

Jenkins says the device has been opened up to 3rd party apps (e.g. mapping, Twitter). Users can also access the Surrey Police intranet and Surrey Police systems.

‘The initial feedback on the Samsung Galaxy Note is that they love it,’ says Jenkins, citing one officer who said: ‘It’s the first time I’ve been given a piece of equipment that is really fit for purpose.’ Another said: ‘It’s a million times better than the previous device. It’s faster and so much easier to use that I have been able to crime things in under 10 minutes.’

Jenkins concedes that the Note is hardly a ruggedised device – OtterBox cases are being used to provide some protection at the moment and other solutions are being considered. Battery life is also another aspect that is being keenly watched, as devices must be able to last a full shift.

Three mobile devices, including tablets, are being trialled for vehicles with products from the TETRATab C Series, Fujitsu and Panasonic in use.

In terms of the operational benefits of moving from paper-based processes to electronic ones, Jenkins says Surrey Police did a study of 450 paper tickets in one week; 63% of those had some issue, such as missing information or illegible handwriting, so processing was held up while someone went back to get the information.

The study showed the average time it took a form to get into the PentiP national police database system was seven days. With the Mobile Data System, the ticket is issued on the street, the device is synchronised and the back office system creates a text file and sends it down to PentiP – all in one day.

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