Take Your WiFi With You
By Will Dougan, Tait Communications
Friday, April 28, 2017 | Comments

The smart-phone revolutionized the way we think about cellular phones, with connectivity and applications. Now that revolution is coming to your mobile fleet. In this article, we explore the enormous potential that greater connectivity and computing power brings to mobile radio.

In the late 2000s, the world was introduced to the smartphone, which combined the already-ubiquitous mobile phone with more connectivity and greater processing power for applications. The impact was immense, as this already well-established device became deeply engrained in our daily personal and professional lives.

So many of the devices we use every day feature wireless connectivity and a plethora of software applications that it should come as no surprise that “smart” devices have found their way into the vehicles we drive. Features like GPS are now commonplace, and car stereos can connect with your smart device. Some automobile manufacturers offer in-dashboard voice calling, and the self-driving car is now roaming our streets.

Can a Mobile Radio be smart?

In the case of another already well-established device - the mobile radio - a new solution brings together connectivity and applications to make the mobile radio even more indispensable to our professional lives. What a smart-phone brings to your pocket, the smart-mobile radio can now bring to your vehicle fleet, only with much greater power.

UnifyVehicle, an early example of the smart-mobile, combines Bluetooth, WiFi and Cellular together with a powerful processor and an open application interface and places it into your mobile radio. This creates a vehicle area network or mobile WiFi hot spot, connected automatically through the best network bearer available. It also provides a platform to run customizable applications that can greatly improve workforce safety and productivity.

Unlike portable devices, smart-mobiles can take advantage of the vehicles’ much-greater battery capacity and larger antennas, which gives them fewer technical limitations. Thus, UnifyVehicle makes a mobile radio much more than just a communications device. It becomes a connectivity platform for other nearby devices - a mobile WiFi connection - which goes with you wherever you go.

To see what valuable contributions these smart mobiles can provide, let’s imagine a working day in the life of a Police Officer using UnifyVehicle, and the benefits it brings.

Simple, fast updates

At the local Police Department, UnifyVehicle is installed across their fleet, with custom applications specifically designed to support and assist officers. At the precinct, before the office heads out into the field, a technician connects his computer to the radio’s WiFi, updating the latest software version to ensure optimal operation. Without the OTAP over WiFi provided by UnifyVehicle, this process would require a technician to enter the vehicle and connect manually, a slow task which takes the vehicle – and the officer – off the road.

Bluetooth

When the shift begins, the officer’s smartphone connects via WiFi to the radio terminal, giving the officer access and visibility to all of the applications available. Prior to leaving the precinct, the officer runs a quick inventory, made fast and simple by the Bluetooth tags on key pieces of equipment. UnifyVehicle detects that these items are all on board, ensuring that the officer has all the necessary tools for a day on the job.

Broadband data wherever you go

As the officer hits the road, the UnifyVehicle terminal stays connected to the Internet via the cellular network. Its powerful receiver ensures that the officer will stay connected even in cellular dead zones, so clear voice and data communications remain uninterrupted as the officer heads to an emergency. Pictures, video, vehicle licensing and other valuable information can be delivered to laptops, tablets, or any devices connected to the UnifyVehicle WiFi network.

Mission-critical, reliable voice

The emergency situation is in a rural area beyond the reach of cellular networks, but UnifyVehicle maintains a voice and data connection to dispatch over the wide area Police radio network, thanks to being built into a mission-critical communications device. This keeps the officer safe, informed and connected, despite the remote location.

Custom applications to improve efficiency and safety

Since software from any qualified vendor can be installed on the UnifyVehicle terminal, a wide range of safety and efficiency-enhancing applications are available. This particular officer utilizes the voice recording app, in which they can replay messages they might have missed or misunderstood, eliminating repeated or unclear conversations that cost time. He also uses the extension app, which bridges the gap between cellular devices and wide-area networks by keeping his smart-phone connected to UnifyVehicle via WiFi, effectively becoming a remote-head extension for the vehicle radio.

The officer can also file a report as soon as a situation is resolved, which will be automatically submitted to dispatch whenever the vehicle is within range of a suitable bearer network.

Though our examples involve a Police Officer, the open application interface means that apps can be developed by network operators or vendors to create custom solutions unique to their any organization or agency.

The Future

Like smart-phones, the smart-mobile is an evolving platform. Combined with the great potential within the easy-to-use custom app builder, future versions with even greater connectivity promise bigger, better things to come. Connectivity with satellite networks could bring mobile communication to even more remote locations, and roaming vehicles could collect localized data as they travel. The open nature of the platform creates enormous opportunities for growth. UnifyVehicle represents an evolutionary leap in the connectivity and power mobile radio can offer.

This article was adapted from Connection magazine’s Take Your WiFi With You. Connection is an online publication about the current trends in critical communications with insights from a range of industry experts. Our latest issue is available now, full of interesting, informative articles about the latest in critical communications. 

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