IoT Blog
IoT Blog

Multi-WAN Gateways Enable Mission-Critical Mobile Apps for First Responders

by Benoit Tournier, Director of Marketing, Transportation
The ‘golden hour’ is well-known among emergency service responders. It defines how a critically injured patient’s likelihood of survival is greatest if they receive care within sixty minutes. Trauma, such as internal bleeding, is not only life-threatening in and of itself but can lead to severe shock, which can be just as deadly.

Response time is literally a matter of life and death. Every second can have an impact on final outcomes. Emergency services are increasingly turning to mobile connectivity to ensure that patients receive care swiftly and efficiently—and to ensure that the first responders themselves remain safe in high-risk situations.

Rapid and Efficient Emergency Response
Equipping emergency vehicles with reliable mobile connectivity provides first responders with up-to-date dispatch information, navigation maps, the ability to download and upload medical information, to share patient status with doctors at the hospital, and to organize efficient responses to large-scale incidents.

But one of the main challenges of effective mobile communication has been achieving reliable, high-bandwidth connectivity. To date, first responders have used a variety of both private and public wireless network technologies—from land mobile radio to trunked radio systems and cellular networks. Some of these options are low bandwidth and are not designed to support today’s mobile apps.

This mix of network technologies also leads to interoperability challenges. First responders from different agencies or regions frequently rely upon different networks, making communication across units challenging. This can be a major problem if, for example, there is a natural disaster and multiple agencies need to coordinate their response.

Interoperability and Bandwidth Challenges
So what’s the solution? A partial answer lies in FirstNet—a single, nationwide, interoperable LTE network for public safety communication in the U.S. FirstNet is coming and will provide high-speed connectivity that gives first responders priority in emergency situations. This solves the problem of interoperability, allowing teams to maintain communication across all units.

However, most agencies are not currently FirstNet-ready, and even those that are still need reliable access to public cellular networks, with the bandwidth and interoperability issues this brings.

One way around these additional hurdles is the use of multi-WAN mobile routers. These provide the best connectivity possible by enabling a range of network options, from 3G/4G and LTE-Advanced to Wi-Fi. If a specific network or cellular carrier provides inadequate coverage (e.g. in remote areas), or if a network simply goes down, the router can switch to another WAN option with no downtime.

To understand just how essential this is, consider the following scenarios:
  1. An ambulance is dispatched for a high priority call, leaving its depot Wi-Fi network. As it pulls away from the building and out of Wi-Fi range, it must switch to a public cellular network. But the dispatch system might be in the middle of accessing map data or patient information when the switch happens, causing a disruption which could have serious consequences. A multi-WAN gateway ensures connectivity is not dropped as the vehicle moves between available networks.
  2. While paramedics are treating a patient en route to the hospital, they may want to send patient care records and vitals to doctors in the emergency room. A multi-WAN gateway can ensure that seamless connectivity is maintained.
  3. An ambulance router is connected to FirstNet but moves into an area not served by the network. A multi-WAN gateway can ensure a seamless switch to the public cellular network.
Accurate communication of data in any emergency scenario can save lives. Devices must be able to maintain the best connectivity automatically, switching seamlessly between networks when necessary. Multi-network gateways offer the best possible solution.

The Right Mobile Connectivity for Your Team
There are several vendor options to choose from.  But it is important to ask the right questions before making your choice.

To learn more about how Sierra Wireless can provide mobile solutions for your mission-critical needs, get in touch with us or learn more about our offerings for emergency response teams.