By Brian Albright, Field Technologies magazine
Public safety force leverages a mobile VPN to ensure officers have reliable access to necessary applications at all times in the field.
Public safety forces were among the first to embrace mobile computing and real-time wireless connectivity in the field. As these systems have migrated to cellular networks, however, many municipalities have faced a challenge in maintaining application persistence when wireless coverage is spotty, while also ensuring that the wireless connection is secure.
That was the issue facing the City of Tyler, TX, ten years ago. The police and fire departments had been using laptops in their vehicles for years. When the decision was made to wirelessly enable these devices, new CIO Benny Yazdanpanahi had to find a secure and reliable way to deploy real-time connectivity. “When I came to the city, the police needed to have a wireless connection back to the office, but we wanted to use something other than a traditional VPN connection, which does not work well in a wireless environment,” Yazdanpanahi says. The city reached out to wireless provider AT&T, and the carrier recommended NetMotion Wireless.
Mobile VPN To The Rescue
The NetMotion Mobility XE mobile VPN allowed
the city to secure and encrypt data transmissions
from the field and ensure that police and other
safety forces could continue working on their
laptops even if the wireless session was dropped.
Police cruisers are equipped with Coban
Technologies laptops that are tied in to the
video equipment running in the vehicle. The
laptops are loaded with the Sungard public safety
software, which officers use to generate incident
reports and access offender information. Officers
also have Internet and email access.
"They have all of the tools they need in the car,
and NetMotion gives us the ability to securely
communicate to the back office," Yazdanpanahi
says. "What NetMotion does is create a tunnel
through the Internet that is encrypted, so we
know our data is secure."
In addition to the police cruisers, the fire
department, city marshals, and public works
department also utilize the NetMotion solution.
The approximately 140 mobile clients in the field
can securely transmit reports and other data, as
well as stream video from the vehicle camera
system back to the main office. Officers can
continue to work within their mobile applications
even if the wireless connection drops.
With traditional VPNs, the loss of a wireless
session could potentially cause data loss or
corruption and force users to log in again and
restart their applications. The mobile VPN avoids
these problems through session persistence.
Mobility XE suspends transmissions when
a connection is lost; once the connection is
reestablished, the system resumes transmitting,
all of which is invisible to the end user. Officers
save time because they don't have to log in to their
applications multiple times, and productivity has
been further increased because NetMotion boosts
connection speeds by streamlining the security
"If we were using a regular VPN and a firewall
solution, this would be much more complicated,"
Yazdanpanahi says. "The software makes it seamless,
so I don't have to have an expert on firewall
rules to set up the mobile units in the vehicles."
Make The Most Of
Your Cellular Connections
The city recently deployed NetMotion Locality,
which allows Yazdanpanahi to track the location
of each wireless network card. Locality is a cellular
network performance management software
that can identify and pinpoint causes of connectivity
problems, maintain a current and accurate list of each cellular network adapter and who it's
assigned to, and can identify, redeploy, or disconnect
"Occasionally we have a SIM [subscriber identity
module] card that gets switched, and the Locality
solution allows us to see which vehicle has which
card," he says. "It has added tremendous value to
our operation, because for me to keep track of
which cards are active or inactive would require a
lot of manual work that I don't have time for. With
Locality, if I know a card is not turned off when it
should have been, I can identify where it is."
Get Smart About The
Coverage You're Paying For
In Tyler, the solution provides reports on technology
availability, network usage, and dropped connections.
It also allows the city to identify geographic areas
where cellular coverage is poor and provide seamless
roaming between different wireless network providers.
"For example, there is one area just outside of
Tyler that we know has poor coverage from AT&T, but
Verizon has great coverage," Yazdanpanahi says. "We
were able to map out where we had a coverage gap
and equip our satellite office with Verizon instead."