A Case Study: Mesh Networking Supports Public Safety Communications
As Department of Homeland Security (DHS) develops a national strategy and standards for public safety communications, local entities find ways to overcome the challenges created by different applications, hardware, frequencies, and ranges of operation.
The Marco Island Police Department (MIPD) in Marco Island, FL, a 24 square-mile barrier island off Florida’s southwest coast, sought to upgrade its wireless land- and marine-based mobile network and also enable its officers to exchange data and image files in the field. MIPD selected a communication system that incorporates RF, digital, and real-time embedded software with mesh networking for enhanced range and data processing.
‘Self Healing’ Network Provides Mobile Solution
Mesh networking, or Mobile Ad Hoc Networking (MANET) technology, forms networks spontaneously without the need for a centralized controller. In this “peer-to-peer” dynamic mobile network, the users, or nodes, serve multiple roles by operating as endpoints or intermediate repeaters. Each unit automatically strengthens and expands the network. If a user moves out of range, the network “heals” itself, reforming with the remaining nodes.
Mesh networking technology also overcomes Marco Island’s problems with dense areas of vegetation, including large expanses of mangroves, that block effective transmission of radio signals.
Deployment and Implementation
Prior to full network installation of the NovaRoam wireless data network from Nova Engineering, Inc., Cincinnati, OH, MIPD conducted a field test to determine the best locations to install repeater sites for maximum coverage. A NovaRoam unit was installed first at police headquarters, the communications hub. A second unit was located at a potential repeater site. Officers drove around the island in a police cruiser equipped with another NovaRoam unit, noting signal quality at these locations. The test was repeated using other prospective sites until MIPD had determined the most effective locations for repeaters.
Ultimately, MIPD purchased 18 NovaRoam units to create its wireless mesh network. The units were mounted into each of 13 police vehicles, at four fixed antenna sites deployed on towers in each quadrant of Marco Island, and at a central antenna site at the police station.
Because MIPD chose to install the NovaRoam system rather than use a system integrator, Nova Engineering assisted MIPD throughout the deployment process.
The wireless network currently covers 50 to 60 percent of Marco Island. A second phase will expand the coverage area and ensure that officers always have access to the information they need.
The installation meets MIPD’s key objective: equipping officers in the field with the ability to view data-intensive files, including field reports, evidence photos, and similar information. The network operates in the 900-MHz. spectrum thereby eliminating the need to trade processing capacity for range. The product’s range and bandwidth accommodate the exchange of large data files.
NovaRoam meets state and federal security standards by providing 128-bit AES encryption. As an IP-based solution, it also enables interoperability with existing Internet software applications such as CAD, RMS, and state and federal criminal databases.
Factors Benefit ROI
MIPD chose NovaRoam based on four key criteria:
Speed of Network–Mobile routers deliver fast network access to MIPD’s remote users. Large data files, such as field reports and photographs, can be transmitted quickly to or from officers in the field.
Range and Mobility–The network’s 900-MHz. frequency band offers RF coverage and less interference over MIPD’s communications range that can span several miles. The mesh networking technology creates adaptable peer-to-peer networks without single points of failure. Continuous enhancements can be leveraged through field upgrades.
Return on Investment (ROI)–MIPD was able to purchase and install the wireless network within budget and saw a fast ROI due to the smaller investment in hardware. (Fewer repeater towers are required compared to Wi-Fi and similar technologies.) Because MIPD owns the product, there are no recurring costs or monthly access fees. Federal and state public safety grants may be available to fund wireless networks.
Durability and Security–With NovaRoam, MIPD has a secure radio infrastructure that offers interoperability with Internet software applications. The broad spectrum signal deters outsiders from accessing the police department’s wireless transmissions.
Results Drive Productivity, Benefit Public Safety
According to the MIPD, the mesh networking system enables officers to spend more time in the field and fewer hours in the office completing paperwork and reports. The change has improved relations with the community and increased officers’ productivity.
The network allows MIPD officers in the field to quickly make informed, time-sensitive decisions. During a traffic stop, for example, or another critical event, officers have real-time access to information and vital data that can significantly impact their personal safety, as well as the safety and security of the lives and properties of Marco Island’s residents.
Editor’s Note: Ryan Canning is NovaRoam’s product manager. He has been with Nova Engineering, Inc., for five years, serving in sales engineering. Canning received a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Cincinnati in 2001 and an M.B.A. from Xavier University, Cincinnati, OH, in 2005. Canning can be reached via email at [email protected]