Norfolk is one of the largest counties in the UK by area, while also being one of the least dense by population. This makes it even more important for emergency-service workers to be able to respond to incidents quickly and effectively.
To accelerate the dispatch process, emergency-services workers rely on the steady stream of data flowing to and from vehicles in the field, relaying everything from the location of people and assets to the current status of active jobs. Using this data, front-line workers can respond to incidents both faster and more efficiently, a critical capability in a job where just a few seconds can make a real difference.
However, uninterrupted connectivity between dispatchers and those in the field is foundational to this process, making weak or absent radio signal a significant challenge. This is especially prevalent in Norfolk, where 50% of the population live in rural areas. With fewer cellular towers and many natural features such as trees and forests, coverage ‘not spots’ in these areas is a common occurrence.
Connecting to the ESN
Norfolk F&RS’s front-line workers employ a variety of connected equipment while out in the field. To help meet the 4G LTE availability and bandwidth requirements of these devices – especially in rural areas – access to ESN was a top priority.
As a critical communications system being rolled out by the UK Home Office for the sole use of the country’s emergency services, edge network routers running on ESN are subject to high levels of security and quality requirements.
Anthony Fearn, ICT Technical Manager at Norfolk Fire & Rescue Service, explained: ‘We’re always trying to be an early adopter of the latest technology, but it’s just as important that the tools we use are fit for purpose and up to scratch with regulatory standards.’
With the official rollout of the ESN still some years off, Norfolk F&RS makes use of commercial networks for 4G connectivity. While network speed and bandwidth are more uniform across different networks in urban areas, the lower density of cellular towers in rural areas means that one carrier may be able to offer a higher-quality connection over the others in specific locations.
Ensuring front-line workers are always connected to the best available network is key. But with 3G sunsetting and the roll-out of new 5G masts, the UK’s telecoms infrastructure changes on an almost daily basis. As a result, getting an accurate and up-to-date picture of signal availability and locating coverage not-spots was a moving target.
Norfolk F&RS replaced its legacy vehicle-based networking components with a joint solution including Cradlepoint’s dual-modem, ruggedised Gigabit-Class LTE routers and Panasonic’s TOUGHBOOK 33 tablets in the front cabs of its fire appliances as Mobile Data Terminals (MDTs).
Day-1 ESN accreditation
With out-of-the box ESN accreditation and authorisation to connect to the forthcoming network, Norfolk F&RS is fully prepared to take advantage of this critical new communications service. In addition, using Cradlepoint’s NetCloud Manager (NCM) the IT team can monitor signal strength and performance across a wide geographical area and benefit from automatic network failover between multiple mobile operators. This results in a more consistent level of connectivity for front-line workers in and around fire vehicles, helping them respond faster and more efficiently to emergency call-outs.
Fearn continued: ‘The solutions provided by Cradlepoint and Panasonic are rock solid. We’re now able to see exactly how providers are performing in different areas and have a clear path forward to start realising the benefits of ESN connectivity.’
Choosing to make use of the router’s field-upgradable second modem capability, Norfolk F&RS can now rely on connectivity from two separate networks simultaneously. If responders enter an area where one network carrier provides a more stable connection than another, the router will automatically switch to the modem connected to that carrier’s network. This helps ensure continuous connectivity, even in the expansive rural areas covered by Norfolk F&RS.
Cloud-based management for faster roll-out
Collaboration between Cradlepoint and its partners helped significantly reduce periods of downtime for emergency-service vehicles during installation. Using Cradlepoint’s NetCloud Manager for centralised network management, each solution could be easily tested and configured to meet the necessary regulatory compliance standards.
Improved network resilience
The combination of Cradlepoint’s dual-modem routers and cloud-based analytics and control helps Norfolk F&RS handle the frequent network drops and latency issues that are a common occurrence in rural areas.
Fearn concluded: ‘Our LTE edge solutions enable response teams to access the best possible network connectivity available. With Cradlepoint’s NetCloud Service, we can also see exactly how service providers are performing in a specific place at a specific time.’
For more information, go to www.cradlepoint.com