By Adam Stone
If you don’t trust your cell phone connection to last long enough to let you check your messages at home, are you going to trust that connection when someone’s life is on the line?
Not likely, says Kirk Moir, president and CEO of In Motion Technology.
The company recently ran a test project in Richmond, Virginia, equipping emergency vehicles with technology that would allow wireless communications to skip from one carrier to another as signal faded in and out.
The Richmond Ambulance Authority reports that the system has improved dispatch and response times while also cutting the time paramedics spend on ensuring successful communications by up to 90 percent. The project, begun in 2006, equipped 30 ambulances with In Motion’s onBoard Mobile Gateway.
Richmond’s emergency services have been under pressure to find effective wireless data solutions, with local regulations demanding digital transfer of patient records from the scene of an emergency to area hospitals. An earlier effort to build a solution based on cellular digital packet data (CDPD) was “a debacle,” Moir says, with reliability virtually unattainable. (Many CDPD services are being shut down by vendors who once supported the technology, including AT&T and Cingular, dating back to before they merged.)
In Motion delivers a wireless solution that watches constantly for the strongest signal and hops seamlessly from carrier to carrier. Even when a signal goes on the blink, “emergency personnel know they have something reliable to put their applications on, and they know they have the security,” Moir says.
Beyond being carrier-agnostic, the onBoard Mobile Gateway takes a broad approach to the issue of wireless platforms. With support for up to four radios, the system will play ball with any cellular, private IP, satellite or Wi-Fi network. “We work with our customers to talk about what is available, what are our choices,” Moir says.
Multiplicity really is the name of the game here. In addition to serving as a communications gateway, onBoard operates as an integration hub for peripheral devices (medical devices, printers, scanners, cameras, specialized diagnostic equipment), and as a platform for remote applications.
All this may seem like overkill at first glance. Given that 4.9 GHz already has been designated as the wireless channel of choice for public safety by the FCC, one might suppose that a mobility solution based on this standard would do the trick for most emergency services. That’s the point of standardization, after all.
Moir has two problems with this scenario. In the first place, it requires a lot of access points, as many as 70 per square mile, any number of which may or may not be working at any given time. Then there is the simple fact that 4.9 GHz solutions are not evolving in time to meet the present demand.
“To say that the 4.9 technology is here, that is absolutely correct,” Moir says. “But the implementation of those networks is going to take a long time.”
In Motion’s network savvy has helped it land a range of clients, from municipalities with as few as five emergency vehicles to big private operators like American Medical Response (AMR), which fields some 4,000 ambulances. Moir figures the retail price on the Richmond equipment would have run to $60,000 — but he believes it is not hard to make the business case.
“If I can reduce the amount of time spent on communications by 90 percent, I have a pretty snappy business case,” he says. “If I can help you roll out that next application for nothing, I have a pretty snappy business case.”
The issue of rolling out new applications looms large for Moir and for his customers.
“The Verizon salesperson comes in with the latest upgrades, and my clients don’t know what it is or if it matters,” Moir says. Often, he says, they will turn to In Motion for guidance, which means the company has to keep up with a lot more than connectivity issues: he’s got to be apps-savvy, too.
The same holds true when stuff breaks.
“I am the one they come to when it isn’t working,” Moir says. To help fill that need, he offers customers diagnostic assistance. “We have management tools that show the customer: is it our stuff? Is it the carrier? Might be the PC in the truck. Might be the application software in the PC in the truck. Might be the carrier network. Might be the application server on the other side.”
In Motion may not view IT services as its first line of business, but the fact remains that clients who are in trouble are more apt to call a smaller vendor than a big commercial carrier. Moir is happy to take those calls, if only because doing so helps to cement the ongoing relationship with those customers. “It is really as if we become a part of their IT organization,” he says.