Information is a key commodity for police officers out on the job in their vehicles. Efficient GPS and cellular communications for in-vehicle computers that officers constantly utilize are critical tools of the trade for any police department. These systems deliver access to databases that help police more effectively keep their communities and themselves safe. However the police department in Sparks, Nevada – a city of more than 90,000 on the western side of the state – was plagued with connectivity problems in which police vehicles at times had no database access.
“We were using wireless cards and reception was pretty much garbage,” recalls Matt Dryden, I.T. Support Specialist of the Sparks Police Department. “We were experiencing dead zones throughout the city and disconnects were rampant.”
This situation, while vexing, wasn’t unheard of when it comes to wireless connectivity for fleets of vehicles, be they trucks, buses, cabs or other automotive devices. Delivering high-performance connection on a moving target is not as easy as networking a stationary resource like a building, often requiring best-in-class antennas both inside and outside vehicles to support various types of links with high speed and reliability.
Multiple antennas not acceptable
Applications like public safety with multiple radios translate to several antennas, and in the case of, cellular or Wi-Fi, there’s often a need for 2×2 MIMO solutions resulting in four antennas. GPS or GNSS is usually required, which means that antennas need to be mounted on top of a vehicle for a good field of view to achieve the best performance. MIMO antennas add to the challenge in that they demand a physical separation between the 2 antenna elements. There, needs to be at least 120mm between each antenna for efficient functioning. Also the public safety and PMR (Private Mobile Radio) antennas need to go somewhere too. There isn’t such space available on a typical police car.
Knowing they had challenges, Dryden’s department went in a new technology direction highlighted by the Taoglas Pantheon MA.750, five-in-one antenna, an high performance, robust, heavy-duty, external M2M antenna for use in telematics, transportation and remote monitoring applications in which there can be no performance compromises whatsoever.
Part of a Feeney Wireless CIRA X2 solution, the Pantheon antenna has reinvented connectivity for the Sparks Police Department. “When we changed to trunk-mounted modems with the Pantheon, it was a night and day difference,” explains Dryden. After running tests comparing visual maps and other elements between the old and Pantheon-enabled communications, “Within the city now, we have probably 99.9% coverage,” he says, with the only area missing being one behind a hill that never gets coverage.
The Pantheon antenna has been a game changer for Sparks police, combining five high-efficiency, high performance antennas in a robust, direct-mount package. It supports GPS/GLONASS, 2 x 2 MIMO Wi-Fi with 2×2 LTE MIMO. According to Karrie Rockwell, VP of Sales, Central Region, from Taoglas’, “We engineered this product to meet the fast-growing need for outstanding performance while being small, affordable and extremely robust.”
The Pantheon is ground plane independent, meaning it can radiate well on any mounting environment such as metal or plastic, without any impact on performance. Even though it packs significant amounts of functionality in a single package, it is able to maintain 20dB isolation between antennas and uses high-shielded PTFE dielectric ultra-low-loss cables that maintain low attenuation at all frequency bands and high noise rejection.
No weather issues, no leaks
Installed in 50 Sparks police vehicles — either on top of, or in the trunk — the Pantheon has proven to be extremely rugged, says Dryden. “I was kind of worried about how it would handle weather extremes because we get pretty varied temperatures. We were just over a hundred degrees last week and we can get down to negative 10 with snow, ice and everything in between,” he relates.
As for the Pantheon, “It’s proven to hold up to all that very well,” Dryden reports. It’s also unobtrusive, he explains. “It’s not one of those whip or fin antennas, where they stick up and can be vandalized. It’s a smooth, dome shaped antenna that can’t break off or be damaged.”
The antenna is compact “we are able to put it close to the light bar when it’s on top of the vehicle and you hardly even notice it there. It does look very clean, as well,” he notes. Another benefit is the Pantheon’s special adhesive waterproof layer, which avoids the common problem of leakage for roof-mounted antennas that require drilling holes for installation and also comes with an optional magnetic mount base if drilling holes is not an option.
Limited real estate
Dryden explains that one of the aspects of the Pantheon that his department particularly appreciates is compactness. “All five antennas are contained in one unit. If we needed to use individual antennas, the roof would be scattered with antennas,” he says.
In actuality, “there’s not enough real estate on the roof” for five antennas, Dryden notes. “Normally, you’d need two feet between antennas, which means five antennas with two feet in between all of them. The roof’s not big enough. Taoglas’ Pantheon allows us to accomplish communications we wouldn’t be able to accomplish otherwise.”
The Pantheon might officially be an external antenna, but it is proving quite effective in internal configurations, reports Dryden. In one case, the antenna was installed in an undercover vehicle “so we can’t have light bars and antennas all over the top,” he says. “We put it on the fender inside the back trunk area, and it’s been working inside the vehicle very well.”
Public agencies like police departments can’t assume lavish funding will be available so another differentiator for the Pantheon, says Dryden, is “the ability to upgrade in the future.” One near-term change will be utilizing the antenna’s Wi-Fi capabilities, adding to the current GPS and cellular functionality that is being used.
Wi-Fi connectivity is required for the laptops, tablets and proprietary hand-held devices used for writing tickets that Sparks patrol officers will be adding to their connected-equipment repertoire. “We want to be able to take a laptop into a person’s home to fill out a police report in the safety of the home versus out on the street, where people are exposed to the public and somewhat vulnerable,” relates Dryden.
Having done some testing of this new capability, Dryden is impressed. “We’ll be implementing (Wi-Fi) soon. The Pantheon is great. It works inside the vehicle. It works outside the vehicle,” he enthuses.
Demand in transportation sector exploding
The need for reliable networking among Sparks police officers reflects broader demand for 24/7 connectivity on the move by consumers and workers. In other industries, ”employees in company-provided vans expect to do email while on the road. Bus passengers want to use entertainment apps on their devices while on board. Trucking companies need real-time communications with their drivers. These are some of the more obvious places where there’s a need for more advanced antenna technology to enable all kinds of communication,” explains Rockwell from Taoglas.
“There are many antennas out there, but not all are created equal,” she notes. Issues with size, reliability and performance can limit achieving the multi-channel communications objectives that are becoming so commonplace.
“We’re known for pushing the envelope of antenna technology, particularly as M2M and IoT applications keep expanding,” says Rockwell. “The Pantheon is just one of many Taoglas antenna products that were designed to take communications to a new level, whether it’s a police officer in Nevada getting better data access or a vehicle or asset in the most remote parts of the globe achieving connectivity where cellular linkage is not available.”
The Pantheon is being used all over the world in various applications to support new and emerging functions.