Fast and loose - the benefits of wireless

By Linda More
31 Mar 2009 View Comments
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Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue deploys VPN technology to ensure a secure communication channel with its headquarters

Wireless technologies have finally come of age for serious business use and mission-critical applications. While super-fast wireless connectivity is certainly part of this revolution, it is the ability to interoperate and seamlessly integrate a range of wireless technologies that is starting to deliver ground-breaking benefits. Companies are now deploying wireless systems to solve previously unfathomable problems.

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For Colin Kennedy, IT manager at parcel delivery specialists DPD Ireland, wireless technology is the bedrock for customer-pleasing service innovations such as real-time proof of delivery.

“The advances in wireless technology mean there are many applications that can now be integrated into the company’s mobile computing solution,” says Kennedy. The integration of GPS information with its wireless infrastructure has enabled the firm to roll out satellite navigation, location and tracking, work scheduling and remote mobile device management services.

“Parcels are our business, and it is no longer enough to deliver the parcel, we have to prove that it arrived safely and on time,” says Kennedy. “Our wireless infrastructure supports the real-time flow of our 450,000 daily transaction reports between 38 depots and 350 vans.”

Staff at Professional Witnesses are also using the integration of location-based technologies with wireless systems to deliver additional peace of mind. The company provides protection services to money couriers, so being able to pinpoint employees’ locations helps reduce the risks. The company uses an application embedded in a BlackBerry to track staff.

“The BlackBerry gives us an accurate, real-time picture of where our staff are ­ – this is vital to ensure lone-worker protection and also offers them instant help when they need it,” says Trevor Barton, chairman of Professional Witnesses.

If an alarm is raised, the GPS chip sends location information and the voice channel is immediately opened, so the central control room can assess the situation and summon help if needed.

Wireless technologies are also at the heart of the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue service’s efforts to enhance its major incident strategy. It has equipped four of its command support units with self-seeking satellite virtual private network (VPN) technology, providing a secure communication channel back to headquarters.

These vehicles are deployed across the six counties and provide essential assistance in the event of a major incident.

“On average they are used a couple of times each week,” says Robin Bigger, assistant group commander and regional control centre technical manager.

Reports have highlighted that the emergency services could encounter communication difficulties during and following a major incident.

“Using satellite VPN and other local wireless technologies, we are safeguarding ourselves against these occurrences,” says Bigger.

The units are also equipped with cameras and thermal imaging technology to assist in tackling blazes. The cameras are mounted on hydraulic platforms that have been equipped with wireless access points ­ – and the data is shared using a secure local network for firefighters at the scene, while a combination of encryption tools, Wi-Fi connectivity and mesh network coverage enables the information to be relayed to central command.

“Getting pictures back to the incident commander gives them improved situational awareness, allowing them to maximise firefighter activity while ensuring their safety and that of the public,” says Bigger. “If they can see what is happening on the roof, they can make better-informed decisions.”

Satellite VPN technology is performing well for the brigade across a range of operating environments, and especially in rural and remote areas. When in urban areas with tall buildings, laser direction-finding equipment is used to ensure that the command centre vehicle is parked in a location with a good line of sight.

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