When every second counts, how can 5G make the difference?

Paul McHugh discusses the benefits that 5G and Wireless WANs can bring to the emergency services

Emergency responders have some of the most stressful and high-pressure jobs in society. When responding to an accident or a crime, every second can distinguish between a life being saved or a criminal being caught. However, in the UK, the NHS is facing huge pressure to improve ambulance waiting times as the pressures from Covid and staff shortages continue to affect the agency, and police forces remain stretched. The UK government and local authorities must look for technology that can help improve outcomes for everyone in society and improve the efficiency of these vital public services.

One area where these gains can be made is adopting 5G technology. With its increased speed and capacity compared to 4G, it has the potential to be a game-changer in Wireless connectivity. Allowing police officers and paramedics to access crucial data in the field, provide support for remote pop-up sites and ensure a more efficient system of managing vehicle fleets. At the same time, authorities must ensure that any new technology does not become a burden for IT teams and the people who use it on the ground.

Bringing the benefits of connectivity to vehicles
Being able to connect a vehicle such as an ambulance, police car, or fire truck to a network has huge benefits. Wireless Wide Access Networks (WAN) routers in vehicles allow dispatchers to know where they are at any time and how close they are to a potential incident. For example, Cradlepoint work with Norfolk Fire & Rescue meant dispatchers could see which assets were being used at different emergency scenes and the status of each emergency. The result of having this data meant they could manage resources better, resulting in quicker response time from emergency teams.

Having a mobile connection can also enable more applications in the field. For example, police officers can share evidence and video directly from emergency scenes. This helps reduce operational inefficiencies, reduce officer overhead and boost overall safety. However, a crucial part of this is making the mobile networks secure and regularly updated by IT teams to ensure they remain robust both now and in the future.

As well as fire & rescue and police, connecting ambulances can have a huge impact, allowing paramedics to transmit crucial information to emergency rooms whilst en route and allowing doctors to prepare for their arrival, rather than scrambling for information as they arrive. It can save crucial time that can result in improved outcomes for patients.

Creating agile command centres for any occasion
While emergency command centres can most easily be associated with large disasters, a large range of situations require them. Whether a festival, sporting event or even health situations, such as Covid vaccination centres, it allows teams from various agencies to operate on the ground and respond to changing situations faster. However, they need to be flexible, reliable, and secure to be of use. Meaning they can be deployed wherever they are needed and adapt to whatever situation is happening. On top of this, the most advanced command centres and pop-up sites have multiple applications that need support, from surveillance cameras to multiple computer stations, conference rooms and food services.

Wireless WANs and 5G can facilitate this. Using routers that ensure strong security, each agency can create their own secure networks anywhere they need them, simply by plugging in a mobile router or turning on an in-vehicle router. Using 5G spectrum bands, operators can ensure increased bandwidth for applications and low latency. This means everything from 4K streaming to drone communication and transmission of large files can happen in real-time, which can be crucial when supporting a crisis or event.

Reducing stress on the IT team
While new technology is important to help emergency teams, it must not come at the cost of increased pressure on IT teams that are already stretched or compromise security. For example, in the past, managing cellular data plans and remote networks for an organisation was incredibly time-consuming. It requires IT teams, to identify the correct contract, contact the mobile company, and manually adjust the amount of data needed from a specific sim card. Likewise, they either needed to travel to individual sites to implement upgrades or have workers bring the vehicles to them. This takes time that IT teams do not have if they are to manage their other tasks simultaneously.

Instead, emergency teams need to be looking for solutions that can be managed remotely. For example, the cloud allows IT teams to manage thousands of networks through a single platform. Meaning they do not need to travel to all the different sites to implement software updates or change data plans. It also allows security updates and measures to be instantly rolled out across all networks at once, ensuring they remain secure. This is incredibly important when wireless networks are used by people in the military, for example, who may be targeted by malicious actors looking to access sensitive information about them whilst they are browsing online. Being able to create a separate, secure network that can restrict suspicious websites people can access means these key workers can still unwind and access the internet whilst safe in the knowledge they are safe from malicious actors.

Overall, the benefits of 5G and Wireless WAN connections to emergency services are huge. It enables them to instantly share information and improves efficiency and outcomes for people that need to use their services. It also makes them more agile and flexible in dealing with emergencies, which is crucial as nations deal with more forest fires, flooding and extreme weather than ever before. It is now up to authorities to ensure that they have access to this next generation of connectivity and realise the benefits they deserve to make every second count.

Paul McHugh is Area Director at Cradlepoint.