2023 was a challenging year for public safety as the combination of new technologies and new security threats forced agencies to level up their IT and networking strategies at a time of tight budgets.
So what’s coming for 2024? A range of answers to this question were discussed in Cradlepoint’s recent webinar, which explored how emerging technology will shape first responder communications in the coming year. Moderated by Cradlepoint’s director of solution marketing, Robin Manke-Cassidy, the following expert panelists weighed in on the trends they see taking shape in 2024:
- David Fontneau, chief information officer at the Orange County (California) Sheriff’s Department
- Jason Johnston, consulting solutions engineer at Cradlepoint
- Jason Mitchell, senior manager at Verizon Frontline’s Crisis Response Team
5G IS PART OF THE SOLUTION
According to the International Data Corporation (IDC), 34% of state and local surveyed agencies are implementing 5G now or are planning to do so in the next 18 months. With this shift in connectivity comes the need to consider the equipment that police, fire and corrections agencies currently use.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department (OCSD) is embracing 5G as it upgrades its cellular communications capabilities in partnership with Cradlepoint. By adopting the dual modems model, the department is also successfully addressing the many obstacles that interfere with optimal signal coverage.
“In public safety we’re dealing with a variety of elements out there – whether it be geographic or physical, man-made – in terms of the signal and getting that signal to our first responders,” said Fontneau. “This can be very challenging, especially in metropolitan areas where we have high-rise apartments and things of that nature, or rural areas with their own coverage issues. In our county in Southern California, we happen to have both.”
With a variety of hurdles to overcome, OCSD has found working with Cradlepoint brings effective solutions to improve connectivity within the area. Partnerships like these are likely to grow in 2024 as other departments work to improve their own signal performance.
“Having a singular broadband carrier provide connectivity for our first responders across the county simply wasn’t sufficient,” Fontneau said. The department is now aggregating multiple carrier signals and broadband carriers, including satellite, microwave and fiber, to a singular Cradlepoint device that will provide seamless connectivity in the area.
ADOPTING NEW TECH
The move to 5G in 2024 is part of a larger trend among public safety agencies to adopt new technologies to resolve their communications problems. But it isn’t just 5G handsets and aggregate signals from various carriers that are on the table. First responders are also interested in trying different tech options such as drones and augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR) headsets and rendering systems to do their jobs more effectively.
Adopting new technology in 2024 is likely to be on the priority list for many agencies as noted in a recent Verizon Frontline Public Safety Communications Survey.
“In the survey, only 5% of respondents said they were using augmented or virtual reality applications daily,” explained Mitchell. “Answers to the follow-up question indicated that almost one-quarter of respondents said they anticipate using AR/VR in the next five years. Similarly, only 13% use robotics or drones today, but 43% expect to use them in five years from now.”
Verizon Frontline has done its own share of experimentation when it comes to connectivity and had positive results. “With our robotic emergency dog, or RED as we like to refer to it, the first thing we did is put a Cradlepoint R2105 ruggedized 5G router on it because we knew we needed that connectivity,” said Mitchell. “I think that’s really important because we’re going to see a rise in those robotic use cases not only from a life-saving standpoint but for increased situational awareness.”
Cradlepoint’s technology can also be used in very specific scenarios depending on the needs of an agency. “In IoT environments where a department wanted to put in a key card reader, what if there’s limited connectivity to a tower?” Johnston inquired. “Or what if we have contention from nearby machinery or other areas? To deal with this, Cradlepoint has a feature where we can band mask specific bands in the modem, providing a way to tune the connection and really pare down the frequencies.”
SECURITY WILL GET TIGHTER
The panelists agreed the increasing number and sophistication of cyberthreats will spur tighter cybersecurity at public safety agencies. To cope with them, “the zero-trust model is where we are headed,” said Fontneau. “We’re also moving to an environment where you won’t have a password. That will become something that is legacy. I believe the industry – at least in the public sector – wants to see it get to where we have that single sign-on experience, and we can get to a model where we’re not burdening the end user with that situation. As the threat actors continue to evolve, we have to evolve along with them.”
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