Demystifying ESN for in-vehicle connectivity

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Written by
Will Holmes

Emergency Services Corporate Sales Manager for Panasonic TOUGHBOOK

Demystifying ESN for in-vehicle connectivity

A recent webinar aimed at demystifying the latest developments in the new Emergency Services Network (ESN) for Great Britain provided some very honest results from the attendees. A straw poll at the beginning of the session showed 35% of participants felt only “somewhat prepared” or “not prepared at all” for ESN field connectivity.

We covered the fundamentals of the network in this previous TOUGHBOOK blog but in essence the new ESN promises to transform emergency services’ mobile working across Great Britain, especially in remote areas and at times of network congestion. It’s creating a single platform for sharing data and imagery and enabling the faster adoption of successful mobile applications.

The current focus is on getting the products and services that emergency services customers want, in their hands when they want them. It means key elements of ESN can be tested, adopted and begin to be used as they become available, rather than having to wait until every element of the network is finished. This will allow continuous improvement of the solution and learning of lessons along the way - to boost service, enable innovation and meet new needs of the emergency services.

Four different products have so far been made available:

ESN Assure

ESN Assure was the first ESN product made available back in November 2019. It helps the emergency services to measure and report on ESN coverage in their area and report on where it needs to be improved.

ESN Assure consists of a package of tools on a handheld ESN device, including an app which monitors coverage while on the move, as well as offering a view of what areas are predicted to be covered.

Users can report any perceived gaps in coverage which will then be reviewed. Coverage gaps that need resolving can then be implemented as part of a future release. The first phase of this testing involves distributing devices to selected ESN users and was launched earlier in the summer of 2020.

ESN Connect

In its simplest form, this is the ESN equivalent of a SIM-only data plan. It is for any emergency services organisation that needs a fast, reliable data connection – for example, in-vehicle dispatch messaging used by the ambulance service – but does not need the public safety communication service applications.

ESN Connect will be a fast, secure and reliable data connectivity for vehicles, allowing communications from other users to the mobile data terminal in the vehicle (for example, dispatch messages) and enabling other devices to tether and connect over ESN.

Customers will benefit from data prioritisation, which means the device will perform consistently when using data, even in times of high network traffic. It will also be possible to specify a higher level of prioritisation if needed for any critical applications.

ESN Connect+

ESN Connect+ is a SIM-only voice and data plan that provides a fast, secure voice and data connection on the dedicated network designed for the emergency services.

ESN Direct

ESN Direct is a new generation push-to-talk and critical messaging product on a smartphone. It offers earlier access to the new ESN Public Safety application suite, to gain insights into performance and usability, ready to create training and roll-out programmes for wider deployments.

For Panasonic TOUGHBOOK and its specialist partners in this area, ESN Connect is the product area where they can most assist Emergency Services.

The ESN Connect product and its data services will be formed into three types of Bearer Services. The ESN will provide fixed wireless connectivity to these services via known Access Point Named services (APNs).

The three types of Bearer Services are:

Standard for applications such as email and web access that is not deemed business or mission critical.

Essential is designed to deliver a service for critical business applications. It will have a specific QCI to enable prioritisation of the data on the network.

Critical will be the highest level Bearer Service available and is designed for mission critical applications. It will also have its own specific QCI to gain prioritisation on the network.

And, of course, it’s important to remember that it will be possible to support multiple Bearer Services over a single solution.

When we start to consider the types of services that are possible over the ESN there are a lot of possible use cases. For example, mobile Wi-Fi hotspots from the vehicles will start to extend connectivity to smart devices in the field, such as a Panasonic TOUGHBOOK tablet, handheld or notebook. It will not only extend core connectivity to the devices but will also extend to other services such as AVLS and Telematics for fleet management. You might start to see specialist medical equipment connected or sensors for asset management. This will be alongside the standard services we see now such as Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) and body worn cameras.

When considering the best connectivity solution for in-vehicles and personnel in the field, it is important to think about the reliability and performance required from the devices. Our top pointers would be:

  • Ensure the solution is ESN-approved for at least Essential Bearer services today with a clear upgrade path to Critical Bearer services.
  • Ensure the solution is fully ruggedized and comes with the appropriate environmental and capabilities and certificates to ensure an optimised performance.
  • Consider opting for a dual modem solution that will enable your IT teams to easily manage both commercial and ESN requirements in a single device, from a centralised point.

So what’s the next step? Well, Panasonic and its partners can, of course, assist further in this area. The Panasonic TOUGHBOOK 33 rugged notebook was the first Microsoft Windows device to be authorised for use on the Emergency Services Network (ESN).

Partners offer in-vehicle networking solutions that are ESN-ready and have experience of working with more than 40 emergency service teams across the UK and Europe to deliver in-vehicle networking solutions. In addition to working with Panasonic, Westbase is also the leading distributor for Cradlepoint, which provides in-vehicle routers approved for use on the ESN. Cradlepoint currently has over 6000 devices deployed with emergency services organisations across the UK, many of which have been installed by Panasonic TOUGHBOOK.

The ESN is an evolving and complex system but hopefully this blog has helped to begin to demystify the subject and provide some pointers for how emergency services organisations can get the best from the network.

For more information on how Panasonic serves the Emergency Services sector, visit the website.

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