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Report Reveals Challenges and Solutions as First Responders Seek Reliable Mission-Critical Communication

Paul Rodeghiero

Public safety and local government agencies cite reliability and security as key factors when considering mobile broadband technology

Public safety agencies’ coordinated response to global events has laid bare the need for highly reliable connectivity for mission-critical communication — but the adoption of secure cellular broadband solutions has been difficult to gauge.

To study the question, Cradlepoint and Lexipol recently conducted a survey of public safety agencies. In the subsequent report, “The Value of Cellular Broadband for Mission-Critical Communication,” a common thread emerged among police, fire rescue, EMS, and local government:

“There is a dichotomy between what public safety and government agencies acknowledge to be their greatest needs — reliable connectivity and security — and what they have so far been able to invest in and implement. Needs that were so starkly revealed in 2020 exceed most agencies’ current capabilities.”

In short, first responders recognize the need to adopt and/or expand use of mobile broadband solutions. This is borne out by the fact that most agencies use up to nine connected technologies in the field — critical applications and devices including in-vehicle and IoT tools. However, selecting the right solution when upgrading wireless infrastructure isn’t always straightforward.

Making the connection

To facilitate vehicle-based cellular connectivity, the report shows that first responders and local governments are mainly using three types of devices:

  • Portable LTE hotspots (44%)
  • LTE routers (23%)
  • USB devices (19%)

So, which option is best? When asked to select the most important factors for using LTE router technology for critical connectivity, 85% of respondents indicated reliability, followed by security (61%), speed to deployment (44%), flexibility (33%), and durability (32%).

Carrying a backup for essential tools — be it face masks, pens, or life-saving equipment — is the best way to have what you need, when you need it. Likewise, a sound strategy for ensuring reliable network connectivity includes selecting a solution that supports dual-modems and the ability to failover to a second carrier.

Operating on public cellular networks can hinder the reliability of critical communication during emergencies, with congestion causing slow or dropped connections and adversely affecting response times. Public safety networks, including options like AT&T’s FirstNet and Verizon Frontline, give first responders priority access, preemption, more network capacity, and a resilient, hardened connection. However, the technology used for accessing these networks must meet specific standards and come preconfigured for this feature.

The only technology that ensures reliability by featuring both dual-modem support and access to public safety networks is  mobile broadband routers.

Barriers preventing an upgrade

This brings us back to the previously stated “dichotomy” facing public safety and local governments today: Agencies widely acknowledge that highly reliable connectivity is critical for ensuring mission-critical communication, but even as community health and safety concerns increase pressure to accelerate digital transformation, barriers still block the adoption of LTE- and 5G-ready routers.

Survey results indicate that primary hurdles include cost (40%), security (12%), complexity (9%), reliability (8%), and management (7%). Less specifically, but also worth noting, 38% of respondents indicated they “don’t know” what barriers prevent adoption.

Solutions for critical communication

Part of the federal government’s first stimulus package last year, the CARES Act has made billions in funding available to state, local, and tribal governments. The Cradlepoint FirstConnect program and Lexipol’s Grant Services provide free services and guidance for customers in finding and applying for grants.

Explore additional insights about the state of wireless broadband connectivity for public safety agencies in our Trend Report.

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