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The concept of wireless mesh networks is beginning to creep into the radar of the emergency services. They are seeing the potential benefits of having instant wireless communications during disasters such as fires, hurricanes, floods, snow storms, infrastructure failure (e.g. bridge/building collapse), as well as during the course of special events (eg sporting/hospitality).
One company has begun to offer a wireless mesh “starter kit” that delivers one square mile coverage of wireless communications that can be set up from scratch in under an hour. BAPCO Journal interviewed the people behind the NETworkx Starter Kit to find out more.
The Starter Kit by New Energy Technologies (NET) is described as a rapidly deployable package that supports internet, VoIP, video and data communications using carrier grade wireless broadband technology supplied by Ontario-based BelAir Networks.
The kit includes four wireless mesh nodes, mounting tripods, generators, a server, wireless video cameras, a wireless phone bridge and a CDMA or GPRS cellular modem, and associated equipment required to support video conferencing and surveillance, voice services, data and high-speed internet connections.
The technology is tried and tested, and indeed the hardware is already in use in the City of London’s Square Mile, providing wireless broadband access. BelAir’s hardware has also been tested by the US Navy for operability in aggressive environments.
“Basically what we did is take the BelAir wireless platform – as used in London and Minneapolis – and preconfigured it so any first responder can set it up, switch it on and have a basic wireless platform,” explained NET CTO Dave Kimberling.
Key in the Starter Kit is the concept of ease of use, adds founding partner of NET, Les Boring. “The operators don’t have to be communications engineers. We have tested the kit in a couple of trials with first responders and they were amazed by how easy it was. We designed it knowing that when first responders arrive at a scene they don’t have the time to pull out a foreign device. We did not want people to stumble with unfamiliar equipment, which is why it’s all preconfigured.”
In essence, it boils down to: the vehicle pulls up, the equipment is powered up, the access nodes mounted on the tripods and… that’s it, time to hand out the computers and handsets.
The Starter Kit is yet to be fully tested on the field – something that NET partly blames on timing. “We started the development a year and a half ago,” says Kimberling, “at a time when there were no large scale natural disasters in the US, except the wildfires in California. I sat ready to go in a vehicle with the equipment for three days, but the fires died down before we could go. It was used, however, during a three-day festival in a town with a normal population of 12,000 people but grows to 100,000 during the festival event. That taxed the police, fire and ambulance services, but we went in and had the whole area covered in three hours.”
Another benefit of the Starter Kit is that initial coverage can be easily and quickly scaled up with additional kits. “The way we have preconfigured the system is that each kit shows the area it covers, and equipment such as laptops will automatically link up to the next area of coverage when in range,” says Kimberling.
The main hurdle regarding take up of technology such as this in the US, points out Boring, is budget. “Basically, first responders look to the next level for funding; and that level looks to the next; etc Many forces in the US are looking at it right now and we have had to get involved with identifying funding sources with our customers. In the UK we are currently setting up a distributorship, so presently we are working direct.”
• (4) BelAir Networks wireless cluster nodes: either (1) core node (BA200 AP with (1) ARM3 & (2) BRM4 radios) or: (3) cluster nodes (BA100c AP with (1) ARM3 & (1) BRM4 radios)
• (4) Honda Whisper Quiet generators
• (1) Uninterruptible power supply
• (1) Windows Server w/ Windows Server 2003 R2
• (1) Linux server w/PBX software
• (1) Cellular modem (GPRS or CDMA) – requires cellular carrier contract for unlimited data service
• Linksys/Cisco multiport managed switch
• (1) 2-Line ATA for VoIP communications
• Hardwire phone
• DECT wireless phones
• wireless phone bridge
• Permits locating of phones anywhere that NETwrkx coverage extends
• Video conferencing SoftPhone licenses: includes (2) webcams & microphone/headsets (laptops not included in kit)
• Wireless cameras (indoor rated) – local viewing only, web capable (requires subscription service)
• (1) 4 Camera DVR license installed on server
• Field rated packaging
Features and applications
• Nominal 1.5 square mile coverage (terrain dependent)
• 802.11a/b/g wireless coverage
• Optional 4.9 if required
• Manage up to 7 different wide area network (WAN) inputs such as:
o Existing wireless networks
o Existing hardwired internet
• Local telephone calls (internal network)
• Off local network after external internet connectivity is established requires minimum 1.5/512 Kbps connection speed for video conferencing
• Local network
• Wide area (requires minimum 1.5/512 Kbps connection) DVR functionality for wireless cameras
• Optional web access for optional streaming video applications (requires subscription contract)
• Optional web based camera streaming (requires subscription contract)