The Emergency Services Times speaks to Nicola Savage, Sales & Marketing Director at Excelerate Group, about new advancements in communications technology and the benefits they bring.
EST: As technology becomes smaller, faster and more advanced, what does this mean for emergency responders?
NS: Connected devices like body-worn cameras, UAV’s (unmanned aerial vehicles), vital signs monitoring vests all rely on varying degrees of connectivity. Add on numerous smartphones, tablets and the additional technology on-board a command & control vehicle, and you’ve got a very complex smart device ecosystem. If not correctly managed, the intricacy of different smart devices that all operate differently with different controls can add a layer of complexity for end users. For us, as an integrator, it is our duty to streamline connectivity by making everything easy to operate. It’s about making complex technologies simple so that responders can focus on the task at hand, rather than the technology.
Solutions that are simple and user-friendly enable responders to use them without hassle or obstacles. A recent example of this is our UAV Streamer. The solution is currently in use by a number of Police and Fire & Rescue Services and can be setup quickly and used intuitively. It makes real-time video footage accessible beyond the UAV pilot to other responders whether they are in the field or at a back-office location anywhere. You just plug it in to your existing UAV solution and away you go. The solution streams live footage over public or private networks securely via our ExStream Video Application. Footage can then be accessed from other authorised viewing stations in the field, on
smartphones, tablets, on-board a vehicle or back at headquarters for improved situational awareness. If multiple UAV’s or other cameras are in use, ExStream can pull all of these feeds together so they can be viewed simultaneously, delivering a full view of the incident ground.
The world we live in is becoming increasingly connectivity-centric. The number of devices used in the field is ever increasing and reliable connectivity is critical for any number of smart devices to function. The IoT (internet of things) movement isn’t confined to personal, hand-held or wearable items. As technology has evolved over time, pretty much anything with an on/off switch can be implemented. Take connected vehicles for example. The possibilities are endless in regards to sharing information autonomously and enabling internet access for devices onboard or within range of the vehicle.
EST: Connected vehicles are a hot topic at the moment. What is Excelerate’s role in this?
NS: People know us best for our large command & control vehicles that we have been delivering throughout the UK and internationally for the past 18 years. Today, we have a bigger focus on more scalable connectivity solutions for all types of front-line vehicles. With the increasing number or smart devices being used, connectivity needs to be guaranteed to everyone and not just command and control vehicles.
We have invested heavily in developing new solutions so we can offer our customers various options around cellular and satellite (or both) networks for their connected vehicle solution. Cost efficiency always enters the equation too, and we can offer a choice of options that balance ideal levels of functionality with affordable cost. With this comes full transparency over the pros and cons of different solutions.
Last year, we launched Connex Hub, a vehicle-based compact box that enables real-time data, video & voice applications – with enhanced roaming capability. This smart cellular hub can plug in to any fleet vehicle for enhanced connectivity.
Our latest cellular innovation ExCell, enhances the range and performance of 3/4/5G connectivity. The antenna system enables higher speeds and improved reliability via cellular networks in good and bad areas of coverage and is optimized to achieve longer -range access which is particularly useful in rural areas or areas which know bad coverage. End users can expect up to double the range as well as improved performance overall.
We have also added the Kymeta flat-panel antenna to our range of satellite solutions. The Kymeta satellite is slim and lightweight, with no moving parts and can be installed on almost any vehicle delivering internet access regardless of location. It is particularly valuable when operating in areas where there is no other network availability but also use it as a hybrid solution and can blend it with cellular as a bonded solution to increase bandwidth and speeds. What makes the Kymeta satellite terminal a valuable addition to our range of solutions is that it doesn’t require mechanical components to steer towards a satellite. This enables an always-connected experience whether stationary or driving, delivering zero-gap connectivity on-the-move.
Customers are now using these solutions operationally as well as for trials across all of our territories and sectors prior to much larger planned roll-outs. Smart Connected Ambulances, Fire Appliances and Police Vehicles are now in operation or being considered and I’m incredibly proud to be part of this next phase of progress.
We are a customer-driven organisation, and in order to understand and deliver what our customers requirements are, we have added our very own demonstration 4×4 Ford Ranger connected vehicle to our range of demonstration kit.
EST: Tell us more about your new demonstration vehicle?
NS:This new connected vehicle is a first-of-its-kind in the UK and provides superior ‘always on’ connectivity. The vehicle has been equipped with the game-changing Kymeta flat-panel satellite antenna as well as our secure and private cellular service for enhanced communications capability.
For several months, Excelerate’s R&D team have performed extensive speed and reliability tests along motorways up and down the UK as well as in remote locations including the Brecon Beacons where little to no coverage exists, with startling results. In September 2018, the vehicle was deployed at the United Kingdom Rescue Organisation (UKRO) Challenge in Cardiff Bay. This event allowed Excelerate to test all integrated technologies on-board the connected vehicle in a real-world situation, where due to a surge in visitors to the area streaming and uploading content to social media, terrestrial networks were stretched beyond the usual capacity. We were able to achieve the same level of functionality in all of these different environments. With a hybrid approach to connectivity, through the use of both cellular and satellite networks, responders can now experience seamless communications on-the-move whatever their environment.
We are continually developing offerings to ensure that customers have the right solutions to address their converged technology needs. Our in-house R&D department monitors leading edge technologies to understand if they can benefit our customers and complement our overall offering whilst developing or improving our own technology where necessary.
EST: What advice would you offer to anyone from the Emergency Services looking at implementing a mobile connectivity solution?
NS: Implementing the right solution for your organisation requires a great deal of time and consideration. With the vast amount of options out there, budget constraints and the speed in which technology is evolving, it’s not always an easy process finding the right solution that matches your specific requirements. That is why engaging with a trusted integrator early on is essential for obtaining a solution that is fit for purpose and future proof.
Keep in mind the reason why you’re investing in the solution and what kind of response the solution will be deployed at – as this technology will serve you when needed most. Identifying the challenges you want your solution to support will help specify the right technology best suited for your operational requirements. If the intention of the solution is to be shared between multiple agencies, it is essential that the operational requirements of every organisation be considered as they may have their own set of needs/specialist solutions that need to be implemented.
Get hands-on with a range of solutions to get a clear understanding of what will support your operational requirements. We regularly host technology and innovation workshops where end-users can experience outcome based technology solutions and its capabilities with a practical-hands on approach as well as assess current capabilities and future operational requirements.
Training, support & maintenance are also important factors to consider especially when implementing a more complex command & control solution as it will have a huge benefit throughout the life of your contract. Regular training exercises ensure continuity of knowledge should roles of end-users change or any technology gets upgraded or replaced.
We are an agile business and specialise in working closely with customers to design and integrate solutions that can not only support interoperability between existing and emerging technologies, but can also create a foundation and common operational platform that supports future development within any operational environment. The solutions we provide are customised to user needs, simple to operate, and are developed and supported by our in-house R&D and engineering teams.
Excelerate has a wealth of experience in the development, provision, integration and full life maintenance of resilient communications in environments where none exist, fail, are compromised or simply need bolstering due to increased demand. We are still the only company in the UK with its own Enhanced Resilience Satellite Network with ISO 27001 for information security management including cyber security. We have developed, installed and now support the most comprehensively equipped emergency response vehicles in the world and are exporting our knowledge and skills globally. Our customers include the Northamptonshire Joint Operations Team, NHS Ambulance HART, and more UK Fire, Ambulance and Police Services than anyone else and other agencies such as The Environment Agency, Public Utilities and other public bodies. We are also expanding and have customers in Oil and Gas and it’s the same pattern in other countries where we operate, particularly the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand with more to follow.