Honolulu Police Choose Mobile VPN For High-Speed Data Link
Edge system from AT&T Wireless will network Oahu''s emergency personnel
To keep pace with changing technology, the Honolulu Police Department (HPD) recently discovered it needed to supplement its 14-year-old M/A-COM 800 Mhz radio trunking system with something more robust. Officials opted for an ATT-based Edge (for Enhanced Data Rates for Global Evolution) network as the preferred solution.
|A Honolulu police officer works on his laptop connected to AT&T Wireless Edge network.
Edge is AT&T Wireless'' GPRS upgrade that allows users to transfer data with average speeds of between 100-130 kbps, twice as fast as wired dial-up.
Captain John Thompson of the HPD says officers needed a better means to perform such tasks as running a license plate number while simultaneously sending back field reports to precinct headquarters. "If you''re an officer in a car and you have the ability to run information through before pulling a suspect over, that''s invaluable," Thompson explains.
The existing radio system just wasn''t up to meeting the rapidly evolving needs of the island''s police force. For one thing, police precincts were only able to send simple text messages to officers in the field. "It was a good radio system for when we bought it (in 1990), but the department hadn''t anticipated the data capacity requirements there would be for contemporary applications," says Thompson.
The department needed a system that provided the highest data speeds possible and secure encryption software (due to the highly sensitive information being passed through it.) It also had to be easily upgradeable and provide flexible support and management. Furthermore, Thompson wanted to increase coverage on the Island of Oahu''s northeast shore, the Waianae coast. This remote part of the island had no voice services except for pay phones, and there were stretches without any telephone service whatsoever.
After much searching, the department found its solution with AT&T Wireless. In early September, HPD ordered 1,600 AT&T Wireless Edge mobile data units, the largest single order AT&T has received for this solution to date. Another 150 units are expected to be ordered by year''s end, says Thompson.
The mobile data units will provide every Honolulu police officer bandwidth at speeds not previously seen on the island. So far, five of the eight police districts are fully operational, and Thompson says complete deployment should be completed this month.
Thompson sees clear benefits to the implementation. "One of the advantages of the Edge network is flexibility," Thompson says. "Technology is so dynamic. If you own a technology, you own it for at least 20 years. If you buy a service instead, there''s more potential that you can keep pace with the best technology because there''s not as much initial capital outlay."
Reed Pangborn, AT&T''s application solutions consultant, notes, "With our Edge network, the department was able to leverage their private RF (radio frequency) system for voice-only traffic and carry higher-data bandwidth applications on our network in conjunction with their hotspots throughout the city."
Pangborn, who worked on the Honolulu deployment, adds that the system is versatile. "When you''re talking about throughput higher than 100 kilobits-per-second (kbps), the applications that you can access in the field increase significantly," he says.
Before deciding on AT&T Wireless, the department spent two months in early 2003 testing service from four competing vendors. Department technicians literally drove everywhere on Oahu, focusing on the remote areas usually overlooked for cell-site coverage. At every urban and rural site, technicians did signal testing by sending out requests and downloading files.
"This was the best technology at the time we made our procurement," Thompson says. HPD is subsidizing the Edge deployment with $1.7 million in annual funds received from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
AT&T Wireless brought in several partners that together architected HPD''s high-speed network. In this case, Panasonic and Dell provided the laptop computers, Ecutel, the wireless IP platform and Sony Ericsson, the Edge modems for connectivity to the Edge network.
HPD issues laptops to each individual officer instead of assigning them to each patrol car. With that in mind, every HPD patrol officer can now use the Internet, Intranet and e-mail, as well as access security databases and download archived maps and photographs. Thompson says the department is working on developing its digital technology so patrol cars can be equipped with digital cameras. Crime-scene photos then could be instantaneously sent back to the precinct or a crime scene laboratory.
Upon receiving the contract, AT&T Wireless committed to building a cell site on the Waianae coast, the northeast shore that had no cell coverage prior to deployment. "We [HPD] benefited for public safety data, the carrier was able to add a customer base, and the public will get data and voice service in areas that weren''t covered adequately before," says Thompson.
HPD still is developing interoperability among the fire and ambulance services units, which will begin their Edge rollouts in December. All 4,000 personnel that comprise Honolulu''s police, fire, emergency medical services, civil defense and others should have capability for unit-to-unit e-mail, co-sharing of Computer Aided Dispatch Information, unified command operations, sharing data through Web applications and a unified Intranet. "All first responders will have connectivity with each other on a single network within the first quarter of 2005," Pangborn says.
The city and county of Honolulu, which is home to about 80% of the state''s population, is also looking into tying the network with the outer islands such as Hawaii and Maui.
The technology impementation suffered only a few small glitches. In September, Honolulu was hit by extremely heavy rain, which affected one site in the east Honolulu area. Service was interrupted for a few hours. Thompson says he''s not deterred by such situations.
"We look at it as a very valuable data enhancement. But we''re very conscious of our role as an emergency safety service provider. So if there''s an interruption, we''re fully set up to revert from data to voice as needed," Thompson says."Our whole point is to provide our personnel with the tools to become more effective and efficient. That benefits the general community because we''re trying to take care of them in the best possible way."