Rivada And Agito Partner To Bridge Emergency Communications

Agito Networks and Rivada Networks have announced a joint communications solution, Interoperable Communications Extension (ICE24), that has been selected for use in Homeland Security and Homeland Defense missions. ICE24 is designed to be a fully interoperable communications system that can be easily deployed in backpacks or command vehicles to provide 24 x 7 communications at an incident site using voice over IP (VoIP) technologies.

December 23, 2009

5 Min Read
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In an increasingly standardized world, one of the areas that has resisted standardization is communication systems for first responders, the police, fire, medical and other emergency personnel who are the first people to arrive at accidents and disasters. While the departments within a jurisdiction can generally communicate through a central dispatching office, departments from neighboring jurisdictions may have completely incompatible equipment. The problem becomes critical in large-scale disasters when a city or county must ask for help from other departments or from the National Guard. In these cases, working out the communication between departments can be critical.

Agito Networks and Rivada Networks have stepped into the communication gap and announced a joint communications solution, Interoperable Communications Extension (ICE24), that has been selected for use in Homeland Security and Homeland Defense missions. ICE24 is designed to be a fully interoperable communications system that can be easily deployed in backpacks or command vehicles to provide 24 x 7 communications at an incident site using voice over IP (VoIP) technologies.

ICE24 kits, delivered by Rivada and based on Agito's RoamAnywhere Mobility Router, contain dual-mode (WiFi/Cellular) mobile devices, WiFi access points and a satellite dish for backhaul connectivity for communications outside the site. The new ICE24 uses Rivada's emergency response network Emergency Communications Partner roaming (ECProam) to provide the connection outside the local area to the rest of the world even if cellular towers and public-service radio central towers are unavailable. Rob Needham, vice president of Rivada Networks sees many aspects of the first-responder communications problem in his work. "The problem with inter-operable communications can be severe. Getting police to talk to fire to talk to National Guard is tough," he says. Needham explains that the P25 compliance standard for RF was an early effort to make things better, but the dominating companies took the compliance issue to a new level and made the components proprietary so that one vendor's P25 radio doesn't necessarily talk to another vendor's radio. P25 is a standards effort of the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA). P25 was intended to provide for device interoperability across the kind of radios most often used by first-responder organizations.

Needham explains the basic framework of ICE24: "We started on the cellular side, connecting land-mobile phones to cellular, but that wasn't enough. We had to take land-mobile radios and connect them to first-responder networks. Agito created a software app that can take any WiFi-enabled cell phone and tie it back in to the Rivada mobile WiFi system with sat backhaul," he says. With those capabilities, ICE24 then can create a "bubble" of voice, video and data that extends out about five miles from the backpack-sized device. If necessary, the bubble can be extended farther by connecting several ICE24 systems in a mesh configuration.

The need for inter-agency communications has been acknowledged for many years, though few concrete steps have been taken to address the issue on any broad scale. After 9/11/2001, FEMA commissioned several Multi-Radio Vans that can serve as command, control and communication centers during emergencies that require the response of many different organizations. The problem with the FEMA approach is that it's very expensive, relatively slow to deploy (because it must be brought in from a central storage location), and requires Federal authorization.Comparing ICE24 to the FEMA MRV, Needham says, "I would argue that we've taken the FEMA command trailer and compressed it into a handset. We now have direct connectivity from the handset to an S-band satellite with no infrastructure required. The Agito solution allows us to then roam onto a VoIP system for lower cost." He points out that the ICE24 system has been deployed by certain national guard units on an early basis, so if an incident commander calls for their help they can roll in and communicate with the civil side immediately. Needham says that the ICE24 also has a significant cost advantage compared to the traditional solution. "Compared to the big communications bus these are dirt cheap, between $100,000 - $200,000 fully configured."

From the local law enforcement or fire protection side, one of the advantage of the ICE24 system is that they don't have to buy all new equipment; they can use their current radio infrastructure. An Agito server is deployed at the communications central office so that when they use a satellite backhaul, they have full communications capabilities. As part of ICE24, Rivada also supplies an application that is loaded onto the first responder cell phones to allow them to link in as part of the first-responder communication system.

While the ICE24 system is designed for first responder applications, Needham syas that Rivada has found that there are additional situations in which it can be deployed. "We were one of the companies selected for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grants. We were to provide rural broadband service to southeastern Alaska. It's the same problem [as with the first responders], but applied to civilian needs in very remote areas so they can get cellular service where they've never had access before. These 54 communities have to be reached by sea or bush planes, and there are no real communications," he says. Needham says that the communities and the federal government liked the Rivada proposal because they were able to quickly and inexpensively create infrastructure where there was none. He says, "The performance is great; there's push to talk capability talking to land mobile phone just like you do every day." All in a series of backpacks.

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