FOCUS: Mobile Router Guide

For those who rely on field forces and mobile networks, like first responders and transportation departments, secure and reliable long-term evolution (LTE) connectivity is always essential. Vehicles and mobile command centers have recently become the field communications hub, allowing users to access mission-critical applications and the Internet from anywhere, and keeping data flowing to the cloud from on-board telemetry, sensors and surveillance cameras.

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Agencies need to be sure that their teams have access to the same real-time data and applications when they’re on the road as they do at the station or home office. Accessing information in vehicles is especially important as it allows first responders like police officers to remain connected and productive throughout an entire shift.
Most people know what a router is, since a router is typically found in most households to facilitate a connection to the Internet from compatible devices. However, in a patrol vehicle environment, a mobile router is essential infrastructure and performs many additional tasks such as providing a secure vehicle area network and managing the connection of multiple devices.
Vehicle routers keep first responders connected in vehicles so they can access real-time intelligence on the road. They provide connectivity around the vehicle—referred to as the vehicle area network (VAN)– that allows a variety of equipment from laptops and tablets to in-vehicle and body-worn cameras to access the Internet. This connectivity between the VAN and the enterprise network is what makes the crucial flow of information between the field and base possible. For public safety, this information flow often can be a lifeline. Mobile connectivity allows frontline teams to transmit and receive data such as video feeds, maps and criminal record databases, securely in real time.
When needed, police officers can also coordinate their response with other emergency services from their mobile offices. With this technology, the  home office  can monitor the location and status of assets (vehicles), access telemetry and see fleet information such as data on driver behavior. This two-way flow of information helps keep responders safe and as effective as possible.

Top 7 Things
Here are some important considerations when selecting a mobile router:

1. Ruggedness: Few operational environments are as challenging as those found in public safety. Temperature and humidity extremes, rough treatment and expectation of always-on reliability are a must. Ideally, look for equipment that is certified for shock/vibration in accordance with MIL STD 810G and SAE J1455 standards, and that have an IP rating for dust- and water-resistance that is consistent with your working conditions.
2. Reliability: If you haven’t done a recent assessment of your vehicle-based technology, it’s time to ask your IT staff to review the tech environment and operation of your vehicle-related mobile devices. There may be real opportunities to increase capabilities and operational time by using a mobile router with the most efficient needs for your specifications. It can also be a meaningful step toward improving the security of your network, something that should be a priority for every public safety leader.
3. Security: The increased use of mobile devices and Internet of things (IoT) connections has created a significant security challenge because each is a point of vulnerability. A mobile environment requires comprehensive edge security that protects the network, users and devices, whether accessing the cloud or on-premise servers. Mobile routers play a vital role in security and should have effective authentication protocols, onboard encryption and using a firewall to ensure access is limited to authorized personnel. It is appropriate to ask any vendor under consideration if they have a dedicated department that oversees and coordinates security efforts.
4. Cloud: A cloud-based device management system enables IT staff to manage and support mobile devices much more effectively. Centralized configuration, device monitoring and software upgrades can all be handled on a fleet-wide basis thereby saving significant staff time and IT-related costs. Police vehicles are meant to be out on the road and the more support that can be provided remotely, the better. A cloud management layer also supports added functionality such as geofencing, telematics and advanced security. Geofencing is the use of the Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite network and/or local radio-frequency identifiers (such as Wi-Fi nodes or Bluetooth beacons) to create virtual boundaries around a location. The geofence is then paired with a hardware or software application that responds to the boundary in some fashion as dictated by the parameters of the program.
5. Onboard GPS: A mobile router with built-in GPS supports real-time vehicle location as well as telematics reporting, both of which can play a key role in officer safety.
6. Flexibility: There is usually a need to support both wireless and wired devices. For wired devices, it is important to have multiple ports that provide different types of connections thereby providing greater capability. Connection types that are commonly used include 10/100/1000 Ethernet, RS-232 serial and USB. Another important feature is provision for Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol server connectivity.
Public safety routers need the ability to operate on a wide range of frequency bands because cellular technology is evolving, and carriers can operate on different bands. Ensure compatibility with those bands relevant to your operation and ask about upgrade potential as your systems change and evolve. Also, consider whether you need dual-sim capability, which allows for switching between cellular carriers. This is particularly useful for agencies that cover large geographic areas where carrier coverage may vary depending on location. If your agency is moving to FirstNet or contemplating doing so, then you’ll need a FirstNet-ready router.To ensure reliable, always-on mobile connections, a mobile router should be capable of taking advantage of more than one WLAN link using user-configured criteria (network priority, signal strength, cost, etc.) to determine the most effective option. Flexibility is key for most police departments.
7. Adding on: Depending on an agency’s long-term plan, it may be appropriate to consider expansion capability such as adding a modem and Ethernet ports. A good mobile router can be costly, so you want to make sure your initial purchase will meet your requirements in the futures and not require a premature replacement. Note that a modular design will provide options as needs change.

What’s available now?

Motorola Solutions (motorolasolutions.com) works with Sierra Wireless to offer a mobile VPN solution called AirLink Connection Manager (ACM). This is a VPN specifically designed for mobile applications.
“This is different from most VPN solutions, because it needs to be able to deal with switching networks, as the police car moves around,” says Anatoly Delm, director, product marketing, Motorola Solutions.
For example, the car might connect to a Wi-Fi hotspot when it’s near a city building, and then switch to the cellular network when it drives away. If you tried that with the VPN on your laptop, you’d lose your connection, because most VPNs don’t allow network changes. But ACM is a mobile VPN, so it has no problem with switching networks, according to Delm.  The result is that all communications between the vehicle and headquarters are secure and uninterrupted, even as the vehicle moves around.
“The mobile routers we offer can act as a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot at an incident scene, connecting all the local devices to the internet via LTE,” he says. “With ACM, any data delivered by the router is also encrypted and secured.”
Also, ACM is FirstNet Ready for all First Responders in North America. No special work is required on the part of the IT teams for static IP addresses or certificates. ACM will fully operate with FirstNet addressing schemes and requires little (if any) work for adds, moves and changes within the enterprise. Also, applications and/or devices can be seamlessly added to vehicles without the need for touching a VPN client on the laptop, which can be a huge time savings for organizations.
Cradlepoint’s (cradlepoint.com) Elastic EdgeSM vision provides a blueprint for next-generation mobile networks that deliver pervasive connectivity, cloud-like agility, and software extensibility with enterprise-class visibility, security, and control, according to a Cradlepoint representative. All-inclusive NetCloud Solution Packages for Mobile Networks, based on COR Series routers, are flexible, reliable and cloud-managed. Built to withstand extreme environments, the NetCloud mobile solutions replace multiple “boxes” with a ruggedized, comprehensive mobile network solution that is ideal for in-vehicle and command center installations. Each model supports up to two Gigabit-Class LTE modems, a multi-port Ethernet switch, 802.11ac WiFi, GPS, and ports for ignition and sensor integration. NetCloud software provides advanced routing, SD-WAN for LTE, and security functionality. “Everything is simple to configure, orchestrate, and manage from the cloud using NetCloud Manager,” according to the representative.
Cradlepoint COR Series mobile routers provide ruggedized and GPS-enabled in-vehicle network solutions that are SD-WAN and SD-Perimeter-capable. NetCloud Solution Packages with COR mobile routers bring multiple LTE modem connectivity options and cloud management to deliver enterprise networking capabilities for a wide range of mobile applications that require secure, always-on connectivity. Cradlepoint mobile routers are sold as part of an all-inclusive mobile networking solution in a NetCloud Solution Package, which includes NetCloud software, purpose-built hardware, 24×7 support, and limited lifetime warranty.
Cradlepoint’s COR IBR1700 is a ruggedized Gigabit-Class LTE router for the most demanding mobile networking applications. The COR IBR1700 LTE router is designed for the most demanding requirements of first responders, mobile command centers, public and private transit, commercial truck fleets, and near-shore vessels.  With the available Gigabit-Class LTE modem, higher processing power, and broader extensibility options, the IBR1700 provides advanced reliable communications both inside and outside of the vehicle. With vehicles running on-board public WiFi and direct-to-cloud applications, mobile networks require exceptional security. Offering multi-zone firewalls, IDS/IPS, Internet security, and FIPS 140-2 certification, Cradlepoint mitigates security risks for mobile networks and users.
The Cradlepoint COR IBR900 Series is a compact, ruggedized Gigabit-Class LTE router for advanced in-vehicle connectivity that is designed for persistent connectivity across a wide range of in-vehicle applications, including first responders. With the available Gigabit-Class LTE modem, optional second modem, Wave 2 dual-band and dual-concurrent Gigabit WiFi, the IBR900 provides reliable 24×7 connectivity for employees and devices, both inside and outside the vehicle. Mobile networks require strong security for various implementations including on-board public WiFi and cloud application access. Offering multi-zone firewalls, IDS/IPS, Internet security, and FIPS 140-2 certification, Cradlepoint mitigates security risks for mobile networks and users.
Cradlepoint COR IBR900 Series mobile routers are sold in comprehensive NetCloud Solution Packages that include cloud management, purpose-built hardware, 24×7 support, and limited lifetime warranty. Also available are optional second modem and optional Extensibility Dock; Mobile SD-WAN for better coverage and connectivity; Wave 2 dual-band, dual-concurrent Gigabit WiFi for multiple device connectivity; and unified edge security including multi-zone firewalls, IDS/IPS and Internet security.

Other Options

Cisco (cisco.com) offers a mobile networking platform that addresses the communications challenges that public safety and homeland security agencies face. Police, fire and emergency first responder organizations require a network communications infrastructure that can securely transport the rich multimedia applications to and from an incident. Public safety vehicles become a network extension to headquarters, offering access to network resources that were once available only when at headquarters. By creating an “office in a vehicle,” the remote police officer can make better decisions more quickly using network resources in real time.

Cisco’s 829 industrial integrated services routers provide highly secure, reliable and easy-to-manage 3G/4G LTE WAN cellular and Wireless LAN connectivity for mobile environments, according to the company. The router is very compact, and designed for harsh environments. The router can be used  to oversee a variety of IoT tasks, such as management of fleet vehicles and mass transit applications.
Cisco’s 829 routers deliver enterprise-class features, including highly secure data, voice, and video communications to stationary and mobile network nodes across wired and wireless links. They can deliver enterprise-grade, wireline-like functionality such as Dynamic Multipoint VPN, Quality of service for cellular, Multi-VRF for cellular, and Voice over LTE.
Cisco’s routers also concurrently support both 4G LTE for wireless WAN backhaul and Cisco dual-radio WLAN on the same platform. With the advantage of dual WLAN radio, the integrated access point can serve both as an access point and as a client to a wireless mesh network. This provides another source for WAN diversity, along with Gigabit Ethernet, serial, and cellular. The dual LTE model of the 829 further enhances WAN redundancy by providing concurrent connections to two LTE networks for mission critical services. The router also supports Cisco IOx Software, providing an open, extensible environment for hosting additional operating systems and applications directly at the network edge. It can enhance other Cisco IoT System products across multiple industries, including transportation, manufacturing, electrical utilities, and others.
Lanner (lanner-america.com) also offers two options for in-vehicle routers:  Lanner’s V3S and V6S,  which are fanless, rugged and temperature-tolerant black boxes that can be bolted and secured in the vehicle. The company’s offerings include a high processor unit with high-speed ports, PoE Switch, External and internal HDs, USBs, DVI, audio and  VGA ports. Also available are  2G (GSM), 3G (GPRS) or 4G (LTE), SIM ports and GPS satellite receiver, and WiFi transmitter.
Yesenia Duran is a Chicago-based freelance editor and writer covering police department-related matters, as well as finance and technology.