Digi International recently announced the rollout of robust cellular routers designed to meet the needs of first responders and other critical systems such as city infrastructure and transportation services that are called to support public needs in an emergency.
In this post, we’ll describe the built-in Band 14 capability operated by AT&T and the First Responder Network Authority, and how the Digi cellular router developed for this purpose – the FirstNet Ready™ Digi WR54 – supports priority and pre-emptive communications when they are needed for public safety and emergency response.
Why First Responder Communications Require Priority
An emergency affecting a city or region can jam communication networks, as citizens not only make calls to police, fire and ambulance services, but also try to reach their loved ones. The Boston Marathon disaster of 2013 was one such example. With an estimated one million people participating in and attending the marathon that year, the number of people who attempted to reach services and family members was exponentially higher than normal when the disaster happened.
The Department of Homeland Security report following the event stated, “As news of the bombs spread, land and cell phone communications became saturated with users and were largely unavailable for about 90 minutes.” This meant that critical services could not be reached. Fortunately, alternative communications systems were in place, via an 800 MHz trunked radio system, preventing a complete collapse of emergency communications.
The Boston emergency response teams have been praised for their handling of the events that day, and public officials view that event and other recent public disasters as opportunities to learn and improve disaster preparedness. The improvements include a technological approach through a special communications band (Band 14) and tiered priorities for emergency communications.
The First Responder Network Authority and FirstNet
Chartered in 2012, the First Responder Network Authority is an independent authority within the U.S. Department of Commerce charged with overseeing the creation and delivery of the FirstNet network dedicated to public safety. Its mission is to ensure the building, deployment and operation of the nationwide broadband network that equips first responders to save lives and protect U.S. communities, including extended primary entities such as utilities, transportation, communications and other critical infrastructure.
FirstNet is a nationwide wireless network for the Primary category of first responders (i.e., ambulance, police and fire) so that they can respond more quickly and effectively to accidents, disasters and emergencies. It is being built and deployed by AT&T through a public-private partnership with the federal government. FirstNet offers a voice, text and data priority communications network designed for critical communications that support public safety.
Housed within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the agency’s role is to ensure AT&T delivers on the terms of its contract and creates a dedicated public safety network for today and into the future.
FirstNet for Extended Primary Services
FirstNet was designed to support the critical communications of all public safety systems – not only police, fire and ambulance services, but also critical infrastructure and public health services such as hospitals and care providers, the power grid and water/wastewater treatment plants.
The list of services included in the FirstNet Extended Primary category is lengthy, and in fact many such services have not yet learned that they qualify for this high priority communications category. See our article summarizing the list of users that qualify for the FirstNet Extended Primary category. A few examples follow.
Examples of Extended Primary Services That Qualify for the FirstNet Communications Platform
In addition to police, fire, ambulance and correctional facilities, the Extended Primary services that qualify for FirstNet include:
- Transportation systems
- Water and wastewater utilities
- Information technology services
- Health care services
- Energy and utility systems and services (“the power grid”)
- Telecommunications and power line construction services
- Alarm systems
As Digi has been serving utilities, transit and traffic systems and critical infrastructure for many years, we are in an excellent position to support organizations in evaluating their eligibility for Band 14 communications, and identifying the right technology solution to support their disaster readiness. You can contact us with questions or reach our Professional Services team for supporting services.
FirstNet Ready™ Digi WR54 router for mission-critical cellular communications
The FirstNet Ready™ Digi WR54 cellular router was purpose-built to support the FirstNet Band 14 spectrum with highly secure public safety access to the FirstNet network core. Certification and approval for use of FirstNet makes Digi WR54 one of the critical wireless LTE-Advanced Pro CAT 12 routers available for the FirstNet communications platform.
Digi WR54 is specifically designed to meet the cellular connectivity challenges in large, mission-critical applications where high availability, high reliability and fault tolerance are imperative.
With a MIL-SPEC certified design for durability and dual cellular interfaces for immediate carrier failover and near-constant uptime, Digi WR54 provides continuous connectivity throughout a city, even in areas with marginal cellular coverage.
Before being approved for use on FirstNet, devices undergo hundreds of tests for security, durability and network impact. This ensures routers meet the communications needs of both first responders (“Primary”) and Extended Primary users of the FirstNet network.
Digi WR54 meets the demands of public safety networks:
- Two Digi WR54 SKUs: Two Digi WR54 routers support CAT 12 and Band 14, which share bandwidth until an emergency, when only first responders can access it.
- Dual-core 880 MHz MIPS processor: The product is designed with a high-speed architecture that supports higher network speeds and capabilities as smart real-time applications are added.
- SAE J1455, MILSTD-810G and IP-54 rated: The Digi WR54 is tested and certified to withstand water, dust, heat, vibration and other environmental challenges that may exist in emergency response applications.
- Optional dual-cellular radios for continuous connectivity between carriers: Public safety communications can never go down, so if the primary cellular carrier drops out, dual-LTE Digi WR54 models automatically and immediately switch over to the secondary carrier.
- Four Gigabit Ethernet ports: Beyond the LTE-A cellular module, Digi WR54 supports performance requirements for wired systems as well as Bluetooth and the latest 802.11 ac Wi-Fi.
Additionally, the built-in Digi TrustFence® security framework simplifies the process of securing connected devices with full encryption of public safety data over FirstNet, and continuously adapts to new and evolving cyber threats. Digi Remote Manager®, a secure web-based management application, lets users monitor the performance and health of their deployed IoT devices from a centralized location. System operation is assured with an industrial grade design, while an embedded Python environment enables quick adaptation to evolving system requirements.
Apply Digi mobile communications expertise to your FirstNet project. For first responders and the Extended Primary category of mission-critical connectivity applications, Digi solutions enhance the network experience for approved communications over the public safety broadband network. And our Professional Services team can provide any level of support for your application.
FirstNet Ready™ Digi WR54 assists with the assignment of relative priority levels and extends preemption capability to a range of users and services involved in important public health and safety roles such as smart traffic management and water treatment. Digi WR54 can also act as a temporary solution while your Wide Area Network (WAN) is being installed, or as a backup solution for your WAN.
The day of the “smart city” is now upon us, and the launch of FirstNet is a prime example of how communications will be secured, implemented and prioritized for mission critical systems and services.
Contact us to get your questions answered.