Ka Satellite Technology leads the way in Incident Command.

Today the emergency services in the UK have to do more with fewer resources. With increasing convergence and interoperability among EMS partners, fast and integrated mobile satellite communications are more important than ever.

The significant bandwidth increase provided by the new Ka satellite system offers the emergency services an enhanced level of connectivity and communication, as well as many other operational benefits.

Mobile Communications- recent history

Over the last decade, satellite broadband Internet has become an established and integral part of command and communications for the UK Emergency Services. Throughout the country Police, Fire and Ambulance services have installed Ku-band antenna systems onto both new and existing incident command vehicles, delivering data and resilience capabilities that were not previously available.

Emergency Service use of satellite connectivity has traditionally centred on Internet access, email, basic information sharing and low bandwidth video. Other services such as Voice over IP telephony and Virtual Private Networking have also been used, to provide resilient telephony and to connect into corporate networks.

The future of Mobile Communications with Ka-band

With the advent of Ka-band satellite connectivity, the potential for communication has increased considerably beyond its current incarnation. Fire & Rescue services, as well the Police and Ambulance services will benefit from a new level of improved communication facilitating collaboration and interoperability.

Many tasks previously not currently viable via Ku-band systems installed on many existing and new incident command vehicles are now possible and highly effective thanks to Ka-band connectivity. This connectivity can be easily extended to partner organisations or shared with affected members of the public at an incident, without affecting performance or threatening any security issues.

Interoperability and Collaboration- Improved speed and access

Bandwidths available from the traditional Ku-based systems installed on a command vehicle range from 1Mbps/256Kbps to 2Mbps/ 512 Kbps. This figure describes the download speed/upload speed, with download speed being how quickly information comes off the Internet and upload speed being how quickly you can send to the Internet. Although considerably faster than 2G mobile data, Ku did not give organisations a great deal of capacity and did not encourage connection sharing with partner organisations.

With Ka-based systems, the significantly improved bandwidth ranges from 10Mbps/ 4Mbps to 20Mbps/ 6Mbps. It would be perfectly feasible for a blue light organisation to share its connectivity on a command vehicle with blue light partners, Local Resilience Forum (LRF) members or other third parties. The host organisation could for example allocate a third of its connection to other users, and still have many times the bandwidth available than it would with Ku.

At a basic level, this would allow greater communications capability for multiple agencies involved at the same incident. More radically, in times of budget constraints this flexibility could even underpin a command vehicle shared between blue light partners, or between geographical neighbours in the same Emergency Services sector.
Improved social media applications and Citizen Engagement

Whilst satellite technology has become integrated to Emergency Service response, social media has developed on a parallel timeline. It has now become an established method for Emergency Service organisations to inform and interact with the public.

Whilst Ku-based systems have supported a basic use of social media, the new generation of Ka systems will allow organisations to post content-rich media from an incident, command point or other deployed location. With upload speeds in the megabits per second, large or numerous images can be posted along with text and video to give the public more visual information than previously possible.

A wider and more cost -effective role for Command Vehicles

Additional bandwidth also allows command vehicles and satellite equipment to have a wider role, increasing the deployment potential and giving them enhanced functional ability. This may be attractive considering the capital investment inherent in command vehicles. The expenditure is often considerable, but in a command role, such vehicles are often used infrequently.

Through the use of appropriate technology, Ka equipped vehicles could be used for example as a media hub, allowing media staff to be briefed by senior officers and then to upload their images and reports from the scene without impacting operations. A different role would be in prolonged power or network outages, where vehicles could be deployed as an information point for the public. This could allow the public to go online wirelessly and perhaps even charge their mobile phone. Ka technology can also allow organisations to monitor social media effectively from a deployed location, especially useful in building an intelligence-led response from online information and crowd sourcing. With the use of appropriate technology, command vehicles equipped with a Ka75V can used as social media hubs.

Superior connectivity at the scene enhances multi- agency communications

Providing robust Internet Access from the scene has already allowed organisations to communicate more effectively across organisational and geographical boundaries. Increased bandwidth from Ka will only enhance collaboration, as interoperability becomes more attainable with better connectivity.

For voice communications, the blue light services have access to the Airwave network, which gives both local and national interoperability. However there are numerous voice systems within the Emergency Services and especially Category 2 responders and voluntary agencies that do not readily interoperate.

An example would be fire ground UHF radios used by the Fire and Rescue Service, and other UHF or VHF systems used by partner agencies. Voluntary agencies do not generally have access to the Airwave system, so a gap exists for blue light/ voluntary agency interoperability.

Through a combination of satellite Internet and IP radio gateways, it becomes possible to link organisations across different frequencies and far beyond their local radio range. For example, in a geographically dispersed incident it would be possible to link UHF handsets being used by the Fire Service for river working in one location, with handheld radios on a completely different frequency being used by a voluntary land-based search team further downstream.

Once converted to Internet Protocol (IP) by the radio gateway, voice traffic can be passed from one command unit to another over satellite, or even to a normal broadband connection or mobile Internet link. This would allow individuals to nominate an interop channel on their handset and speak regardless of organisation or location. So fire ground channel 4 could be patched to land search channel 2 in this example.

Remote access with higher capacity

Data interoperability is also greatly improved with Ka connectivity. On some command vehicles a network share is used to provide a depository for files, images and information sharing. But historically, accessing that information from Headquarters or elsewhere has been difficult, as Ku-based systems do not have enough bandwidth.

It is laborious to access information remotely from the command vehicle, because upload speeds of 256Kbps to 512 Kbps make large files slow to transfer.

But with Ka connectivity, the command vehicle or command location will have a network connection with capacity similar to many small offices. Information held in the network share at the command location can be accessed remotely in real time, making collaborative information sharing a reality.

Multiple communications services from a single provider

The term convergence is used to describe new levels of connectivity, which are now possible through widespread networking and the Internet of Things. An example would be a landline and a mobile phone being virtually connected, so they will both ring when someone dials your number. Or having a handset which will browse from the mobile phone network to WIFI, switching from 3G to WIFI for voice and data, and in doing so using the fastest and/ or cheapest connection.

This convergence is possible across IP networks provided by Ka-based systems. Information convergence is also possible, where information can be gathered, accessed, displayed and utilised in real time across a number of platforms.

As an example, people are often carrying mobile phones which are GPS enabled with Internet connectivity and the ability to run applications. These devices can both locate an individual and be used to post detailed information to an online location. In a wide area operation (search, civil disturbance or wildfire) information gathered by these devices could be viewed in real time from the command location because of the additional bandwidth now available. The location of casualties, debris, staff, volunteers and other essentials could be gathered and displayed in real time.

Similarly, bespoke devices such as those used for tracking vehicles (AVLS) or marine assets can be accessed online. These systems will often report their location in real time to online mapping applications such as Google or Bing Maps, and can even indicate mechanical problems if so configured.

Asset telemetry can provide a detailed input to the Common Information Picture, and hence assist with delivering a successful outcome.
Dependent on the technical infrastructure of the Control Room, Ka-based connectivity could extend Control Room systems to a forward command point or silver Control. An organisation may wish to display information from the Control Room to aid in decision-making. It may even aim to create an incident Control Room and deploy assets locally from the incident, aside from normal Control Room operations. The increased capacity of Ka connectivity could potentially underpin this requirement.

The next generation of Satellite Broadband is here, it is Ka-based, and it is unquestionably the future.

For more information contact Henry Walker on +44(0) 8453 455 734
email: henryw@primetech.co.uk
web: www.primetech.co.uk

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