Voice, video and data

Ad hoc networks deliver Internet Protocol (IP)-based voice, video and data to users operating beyond the reach of traditional fixed-network infrastructures. Mobile ad hoc networks provide law enforcement with greater flexibility to update normal operational procedures across the board and modify the fundamental way that business is done. In the same way that putting networks in the office changed the way we normally do business, so will mobile ad hoc networks change how effectively law enforcement professionals can do their job. With minimal user training, the very same capabilities available in the office can now be deployed for use in the field.

For instance, imagine an officer is out on patrol and identifies a suspicious person. The officer stops the suspect and, with a mobile ad hoc network, is able to use facial recognition software to determine that this is a wanted felon. Even though he is away from headquarters, he maintains contact, so he sends a constant video stream of his interaction with the suspect back to headquarters. Not only can headquarters monitor the interaction in real time, but the officer can also access all the applications available on that network. In this case, he uses facial recognition and fingerprint identification data from the system to identify the felon. The police officer can take the suspect into custody, and headquarters can give disposition instructions, all on the scene.

Ad hoc networking offers compelling advantages in many environments, but there are still some challenges. Foremost among these challenges is the need to efficiently merge IP routing and mobile radio technologies.  

Or take the example of emergency workers responding to a natural disaster. If the entire traditional infrastructure is destroyed, no one can get a cell phone or radio signal to save their life – or anyone else’s. The hurricane, earthquake or flood has decimated communications for miles. What can first responders do?

Ad hoc mobile networks are available today

Law enforcement can take advantage of the next generation of scalable mobile ad hoc networking to improve their communication capabilities by combining voice, video and data applications into a single platform.

A mobile ad hoc network is a collection of mobile nodes, which are distribution or endpoints in a communication system that can dynamically and continuously create connections. New embedded services routers that enable mobile ad hoc networks can provide highly secure communications to both stationary and mobile network nodes across wired and wireless links to improve law enforcement’s effectiveness and increase public safety.

Mobile ad hoc networks strengthen capabilities

Mobile ad hoc networking has a major impact on the daily operations of law enforcement agencies, introducing measurable and distinct operational capabilities. This new technology significantly improves how officers or first responders in the field can communicate with each other and with headquarters.

Law enforcement professionals with a mobile ad hoc solution have access to their network regardless of where they are. No longer are there communication coverage restrictions, since the ability to access all the capabilities they have in the office are with them all the time. Many of the normal day-to-day capabilities and features used in their fixed, in-building network, such as access to databases and communication systems, are available to each and every officer or first responder wirelessly.

Wirelessly available in the field

The three critical components of information that the network makes available are voice, video and data.

Currently, an officer typically receives and transmits data in two ways - by push-to-talk radio (a 40-year-old technology) and, more recently, by cell phone.

Capturing video is usually restricted to a video recorder in the vehicle. Consequently, video images captured by the dashboard camera are recorded directly into the DVR in the trunk, and no one but the officer can see the video until it is downloaded at headquarters. His radio data is restricted to a very low-bandwidth communication device that does not enable him to push maps, high-resolution photos, video or any other big files that you would normally be able to manage at headquarters and that would be highly useful in the field.

Today, if a policeman responds to a traffic accident or bank robbery, only an aerial platform such as a helicopter flying over the scene can broadcast video. We see it at home on our televisions during a newscast, or it might be broadcast back to the police station so that police leadership can see it. The officers or first responders on the ground cannot see it, and there are many instances in which they could do better, safer work if they could.

Implementing mobile ad hoc networking allows video to be seen by the police officer from the field in real time. For instance, the aerial view from the top or side of a building, behind a row of trees, or down the block -- now seen only in headquarters or on your living room television -- can be seen in the field. That marks a distinct advance in communication that provides law enforcement with the ability to respond differently to an event because an officer has more visual information on the scene.

With mobile ad hoc networking, an officer will be able to see video in real time, which can make him safer and more effective at stopping crime.

This is indeed a positive operational change that is an outgrowth of ad hoc networking.

Technical advantages

Ad hoc networking does not change the capability of any radio such as land mobile radio (LMR), also known as voice push-to-talk radio. However, it does allow systems that integrate land mobile radio networks to integrate into the network and capture non-LMR communication nodes. (One such system is Cisco IPICS, which provides a full spherical view, up to 360 degrees, for surveillance.)

Ad hoc networking allows a communication system to be one of many by integrating satellite, cellular and radio technologies. It expands LMR rather than replacing it.

For instance, if an officer is outside land radio communication links, the network opens a satellite or cellular connection or routes traffic over a neighboring officer’s vehicle if it provides better connectivity. The officer does not have to be a networking engineer, since this is done automatically. No action is necessary to stay connected.

Self-healing networks and meshes

Ad hoc networks deliver IP-based voice, video and data beyond the reach of a traditional fixed-network infrastructure. An ad hoc network has to be smart enough to manage and control large amounts of data so that the required information can be easily passed through.

Ad hoc networking allows the network to see all of the nodes as they move in or out of coverage areas and interact with the nodes via routers to find the best path to transmit the data.

With ad hoc networking, convergence is down to about five milliseconds. Because the network can see link quality dropping off, it can anticipate and make changes instantaneously. For instance, a phone call might jump from satellite, to radio, to fixed cell, to land mobile radio and back to satellite. The officer on the call never knows the complexity of the communication nodes; all he knows is that the phone call works.

Core competency

By adopting ad hoc networking, police and law enforcement benefit from the research and development of the Defense Department and ministries of defense around the world, who are already using and relying on ad hoc networking for their daily life-and-death operations.

Ad hoc networking does not affect established security; it maintains the same security standards currently in place. Law enforcement can be as confident in their ad hoc networking implementations as they are with their fixed-infrastructure networks.

Every police department’s network is different and designed to its specific needs. If architected properly, operation will be cost-effective and efficient.

There are four basic components to an ad hoc network:

  • Routing platforms.
  • Radio Aware Routing (RAR) protocols enabling networks to talk to a radio.
  • Radio routing protocols for ad hoc mobility that run in the network.
  • Applications and services.

Routing Platforms

The first component an agency needs for a mobile ad hoc network is the actual routing platform.

Embedded services routers now have the same functionality of an industry-standard 19-inch rack-mounted router, fit into a very small form factor. These router platforms can sit in the back of a police car and are ruggedized to withstand rough conditions, temperatures and transport.

Radio Aware Routing Protocols

Radio Aware Routing (RAR) protocols are essential to ad hoc capability, as they enable routers to adapt to changes in the radio links as they occur, which minimizes disruptions to critical information flow. RAR facilitates the communication within a network by discovering routes between nodes and establishing an efficient route so that messages are delivered in a timely manner with a minimum of overhead and bandwidth consumption.

To implement an ad hoc network, some radio upgrades may be required. Information technology staff need to work with radio vendors to make sure they support required ad hoc network protocols.

Radio Routing and Industry-Standard Protocols

Ad hoc networking offers compelling advantages in many environments, but there are still some challenges. Foremost among these challenges is the need to efficiently merge IP routing and mobile radio technologies. Implementers of mobile ad hoc networks should consider how industry-standard protocols operate over their radios, selecting those that optimize routing performance while preserving valuable bandwidth for user information.

Applications and Services

The applications and services that run on the network make up the fourth critical component of a mobile ad hoc network. The police department’s chief information officer needs to determine the necessary applications and services based on the department’s needs.

Ad hoc networking partners, of which Cisco is one, use existing applications or write new ones that a police department may require or choose to use.

Rolling out a network in stages

Just how big a law enforcement department wants to scale an ad hoc network is an operational decision. Every node in a mobile ad hoc network has to have a routing platform with the same capabilities. At the bare minimum, there need to be two nodes in a network, but it is likely most small to medium police forces will implement approximately 40 nodes, depending on how many cars they have. The key component is that every node has the same capabilities.

Often mobile ad hoc networks are deployed in stages, because departments want to develop training and operational procedures as they measure the impact of how these new capabilities affect the way they do business.

The clear advantage of updating to a mobile ad hoc network is that an officer doesn’t require any special training. To the standard-issue law enforcement officer on the street, mobile ad hoc networking simply brings the familiar capabilities currently used in his office to the field and extends communications to areas that might otherwise be in the dark.

Law enforcement benefits from advances in technology and the ability to push these technologies out to vehicles and officers in the field. Mobile ad hoc networking makes law enforcement safer and more effective while reducing costs for police departments and taxpayers. Ad hoc networking is an operational enhancement of capabilities that helps law enforcement be faster, safer and smarter in doing its job.