4 Design Factors to Consider for Future-Proof First Responder Products

March 21, 2019

Future-Proofing Your Connected First Responder Network Device


A person typing code on a small laptop in front of a larger computer monitor.

Cellular technology is constantly changing.


In the past few decades, networks have progressed from 1G to 4G LTE and are now quickly going beyond into 5G. Technical advancements are extreme, taking cellular from the analog mobile phones of the 1980s to the high-speed, IP-based devices of today. Cellular encompasses far more than voice communications, now embracing high-speed data transmissions of 200MB–1 gigabit per second in 4G, with the emerging 5G promising speeds up to 20 times faster.


With the introduction of a dedicated first responder network, many municipalities are making the transition from private radio to cellular for urgent communications. With broadband comes a myriad of possible communication methods for responders, from mission critical push-to-talk to video to z-Axis location-based services. It’s a big shift, and device developers need to be aware of the changing market.


Radio vs. Cellular


Private radio networks don’t evolve like cellular networks. A communications device for radio might easily last for a decade without modifications, while a cellular device could be defunct in a few years if it’s not equipped to accommodate changing network requirements.


IoT developers in the consumer market are not as concerned about longevity, but first responder network developers have to be. Public safety districts are looking for rugged, dependable products that will last for years. How can you future-proof your device?


Focus on these key areas:


1. Cyber security


In the wider world of IoT, security is an ongoing concern illustrated by a number of recent cyber attacks and product vulnerabilities. In the realm of public safety, it’s a non-negotiable standard.


“Security is paramount to the network,” says Richard Mirgon, VP of the FirstNet Association. “Products from certain device manufacturers have already been prohibited from use on band 14 because of security concerns.” First responders must constantly gather data to adhere to a range of local, state and federal security requirements, from HIPAA to Department of Justice regulations.


To adequately secure that information, devices and software must include user authorization, authentication and data encryption capabilities. Designers should explore the available security features for each component of their device and utilize them as fully as possible.


2. Network Interoperability

While private radio is still in use in many municipalities, most have already shifted to cellular for at least part of their communications.


First responder network rollout is in progress, but mass adoption will take time. That’s why it’s vital to build devices that can connect to both band 14 and standard commercial networks. Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) need to design solutions with current and future capabilities in mind – including the form factor of the card.


The more bands a card supports, the better. A card compatible with existing networks and well aligned with 5G is significantly valuable for the longevity of first responder products.


3. Reliability and Rugged Construction

Again, reliability is a universal product standard, but it’s doubly important in the first responder market.


End users of these devices are on the front lines in emergencies, facing dangerous conditions and saving lives. They need apps, devices and hardware that are rugged, reliable and fail-proof in mission-critical situations. Choosing a cellular module or data card that’s proven to be reliable and can withstand extreme temperatures is a vital piece of the puzzle for designers.


Make sure your provider is vetted and the module or card itself is first responder network ready.


4. Credible and Transparent Manufacturing


It is fundamental to develop a broad set of criteria to vet who is providing each key component of a solution for first responders, particularly the module or data card delivering the cellular connection to the device used by the responder or in the emergency vehicle.


There are new companies rushing to get cellular modules into the US market and lining them up for sale (typically selling based low pricing) so that integrators of mission critical routes, gateways and other first responder devices are taking higher margin numbers their managers and shareholders.


What that means is that these products from low-cost manufacturing countries will soon be in mission-critical devices in fire trucks and ambulances across all 50 states.


First responder agencies, OEMS and integrators must understand that when a cellular module receives approval from first responder network operators, this is strictly a technical achievement. In other words, the device has met a preset list of technical operation requirements. That is the entire scope of that certification – nothing else.


The burden is on the first responder solution buying agency (municipality, fire district, police department), device OEM or integrator to verify the solidity of the company as a vendor of a key component for the end-product.


The allure of the huge market that the US emergency responder market represents has a number of low-cost manufacturing country governments providing grants and subsidies for their local companies or ventures to quickly get modules into US certifications and into devices. In the past, many of these companies have been very effective at taking the funding to start only to quickly burn out and disappear.


Need support as you design a first responder device? We can help you select the right module or data card for your application.


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