Better connected: How 5G and IoT will transform emergency services

17 Jan 2019

Image: © chalabala/

Lindsay Notwell of Cradlepoint outlines how emergency services will be transformed by new technologies.

By the time 5G arrives completely, connectivity in many industries will already be evolving rapidly. The European Patent Office reports that the number of patents relating to ‘smart connected’ objects jumped 54pc in the last three years. These are the innovations already transforming healthcare, education and emergency services.

5G will deliver the massive increase in the level of connectivity needed to take these industries even further, whether that’s connecting cars to the roads they’re travelling on, delivering virtual reality (VR) experiences that help people explore wherever they are or enabling real-time haptic feedback across the mobile internet.

So, how will public safety benefit from the increased capabilities and connectivity enabled by the roll-out of 5G?

5G-powered ‘first responders’

Emergency services around the UK are already experimenting with drones and robots to gain visibility over situations, maximise the safe deployment of resources, and minimise the risk of delays. Devon and Cornwall Police recently launched a 24-hour drone unit to find missing people, while the Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service is trialling the use of drones to survey and manage known remote wildfire locations and assist with incidents.

The Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) are also testing drones in a variety of real-life search-and-rescue scenarios.

In the future, 5G will enable the real-time feedback loops required to remotely operate drones to deliver equipment, medicine, food and water to disaster locations, regardless of geographical location.

Similarly, emergency communication will support failsafe ‘total conversation’ services featuring voice and video status updates, alongside live telematic feeds on the location of other emergency responders, real-time updates on public transport movements and even social media activities.

Device-to-device communications will increase the availability of communications and uplink capacity available to emergency workers, creating an ‘always connected’ experience that allows them to use high-quality content for improved situational awareness.

That includes tapping into live feeds from traffic cameras or drones, or using number-plate recognition in real time to track and intercept suspects before members of the public are put at risk. It will enable fingerprint sensors to identify criminals or victims at the scene of an incident, saving valuable time and gathering vital intelligence in the moment.

IoT-enabled response

We’re already seeing the use of IoT sensors that alert police officers the moment a firearm is discharged, pinpointing the location at which the weapon was used. In the future, IoT devices – ranging from home security systems to sensors across smart cities – will enable police to identify where a suspect was, who they were with and what they were doing.

But that’s not all. Smart traffic management and connected car technologies will make it possible to manage traffic lights and ease traffic flows, so journey times for emergency vehicles and relief teams can be optimised.

Meanwhile, smart ambulances, equipped with high-definition video and medical data transmission capabilities, will enable medical specialists to provide remote diagnosis of patients at the point of an incident or as they’re being transported to a hospital.

Non-stop connectivity

LTE-enabled in-vehicle routing platforms are already helping first responders and police officers access mission-critical applications and information to file reports from their vehicles.

5G will go further, incorporating large audio and high-resolution video files and reports that can easily be cross-referenced for patterns and behaviours, and used by other agencies. There will be no need to waste time returning to HQ; everything will be available at the point of need.

Similarly, IoT and 5G will support the on-demand creation of mobile networks at disaster locations to facilitate the vital voice and data communications needed by first responders and post-event disaster relief service providers.

Plotting a pathway: Making 5G and IoT a reality

Public safety organisations looking to harness the unprecedented connectivity that will soon be possible will need to consider several areas on the pathway to 5G.

  • Devices and services must be reliable. Tools such as body cameras, tablets and dashboard cameras will require Wi-Fi access, while also having access to consistent in-vehicle connectivity. This requires routers capable of withstanding vibration and fluctuating environmental conditions. To ensure first-responder devices gain ‘first in line’ access at times of emergency, they will also need to support the priority and pre-emption capabilities mobile network operators are introducing for public safety customers.
  • Security is a critical aspect of the solution being deployed. Advanced encryption techniques, support for private networks and new security paradigms such as Software-Defined Perimeter are key to protecting sensitive data.
  • Solutions must be easy to manage; no one wants first responders having to waste time troubleshooting complex technology. It will also be vital that networks can be maintained and repaired without having to bring back vehicles or devices to HQ.
  • Solutions must be cost-effective. As taxpayers fund the majority of public services, it’s vital that 5G and IoT solutions deployed by public safety organisations are affordable and offer a low total cost of ownership.

As public sector organisations await the arrival of 5G, advanced 4G LTE routing platforms and services are already paving the way forward, making it possible to take advantage of enhanced device-to-device connectivity, extended coverage deep in buildings, network relays for IoT and wearables, as well as mission-critical video and data services.

This is enabling public safety agencies to respond faster and more effectively than ever before. As 5G moves closer, the benefits will only get more pronounced.

By Lindsay Notwell

Lindsay Notwell is senior vice-president of 5G strategy and global carrier operations at Cradlepoint. Prior to Cradlepoint, Notwell spent 17 years at Verizon, where he was instrumental in 4G implementation.