Making a Match: How to Select the Right Router + Rugged Tablet for Reliable In-Vehicle Wi-Fi

Communication is essential to emergency response, which means in-vehicle data connectivity is just as critical. “Losing a signal” is not acceptable as it can impair law enforcement officers, firefighters, EMS technicians and rangers who are commonly working in vehicles from effectively doing their jobs.

That’s why this is such an easy blog to write. It’s about a mobile technology implementation that has been uniformly successful for in-vehicle data communications for several years now: the mobile router + rugged tablet combo. Of course, there are many in-vehicle connectivity platforms to consider for public safety use; though most customers who choose to install a mobile gateway for their vehicle data needs do so because of the breadth and performance of available features sets. Specifically, mobile gateways such as this Cradlepoint one are designed to distribute the data bandwidth of one wireless data connection to the many in-vehicle wireless devices that have real-time, two-way data communication requirements, including rugged tablet computers, cell phones, cameras, license-plate readers, and wearables. The mobile gateway, which connects to a cellular data network, effectively shares the bandwidth to all devices via Wi-Fi, while serving as a device management platform and minimizing wireless service costs.

Mobile gateway - matching rugged tablets with routers

Buying cellular data services from a carrier, or even with FirstNet when it becomes operational, is a necessity, and can be costly. Basically, the carriers charge a fixed amount per device activated, plus an amount for a block of data. So five activations of 1GB/month will cost more than one activation of 5GB/month, even though the same amount of data is provided. However, a mobile gateway can connect to the advanced 4G/LTE network with one account, and that data can be shared among all of the devices within, or nearby, the vehicle. This sharing model further saves money, since there will be less unused data wasted per month.

How to Find the Perfect Mobile Gateway + PC Match…
For a mobile gateway to be good, it must be designed for in-vehicle use. For example, it must be compact, yet rugged enough to handle shocks, vibrations, dust, fluids and extreme temperature ranges. (Ergonomics and durability both matter). It must also utilize high-bandwidth antennas to achieve robust wireless performance, because the shorter the wire is from the radio to the antenna, the less likely the signal will be lost. It’s true that antennas that run from a dash-mounted PC, through the interior, up the C pillar, and through the roof liner to a roof antenna can see most of the gains of an external antenna lost via long wire signal attenuation. But mobile gateways are usually mounted in the trunk, where a hole is drilled and an antenna is placed at the hole, allowing for the utilization of a very short wire and providing very little attenuation. Mobile gateways then create a Wi-Fi access point, with a second antenna, providing additional VPN support and firewall protections for the data.

For a mobile gateway to be great , it should also support carrier-switching with software-defined radios, cloud based management for all the mobile gateways in the fleet, FirstNet support, GPS and dual modem support. In a perfect world, the gateway would provide connectivity across a broad range of M2M, IoT and in-vehicle applications: Computer-aided dispatch, navigation, automatic license plate readersandaccessing the FBI’s criminal database are just a few of the more essential – but complex – applications that require open communication channels.

vehicle mobile gateway network solutions

Of course, you want to ensure that the mobile computer you select also features similar qualities and capabilities. That’s why we’re seeing a trend away from the bulkier clamshell-type notebooks, such as Panasonic Toughbooks in the public safety sector. They may be rugged, but they’re far from compact, and they certainly aren’t easy to remove from the dock and carry in hand onto the scene for real-time data transmission, response coordination and reporting. Rugged tablets, on the other hand, are only 2-5lbs on average and allow for the single screen, multi-touch data interactions that public safety operations necessitate.

They are also easier to custom-mount in every public safety vehicle make and model, while minimizing safety issues. (Ask vehicle dock manufacturers if they have crash data that proves they don’t block airbags and can prevent the tablet PC from injuring occupants.) Great rugged tablet vehicle docks also provide an ethernet port, that allows for direct connection to the mobile gateway, in addition to the Wi-Fi connection. Not only can the rugged tablet now be securely used on the mobile gateway’s Wi-Fi network, but the signal will carry a few hundred feet. Therefore, public safety officers responding to an incident can be confident their device will stay connected as they mobilize.

Key Takeaway: For public safety departments that opt to invest in a mobile gateway solutions, know that these implementations typically are straight-forward to install, work well from day one, and yield consistently reliable data connections, security and cost controls – especially if used in conjunction with a rugged tablet computing platform versus the much larger and less technologically advanced notebooks.

Mark your calendar.

Want to learn more about new in-vehicle Wi-Fi solutions? Have questions about which gateway you should match with your mobile computing platform? Join us on May 31 at 2 pm for a  live webinar  and Q&A with in-vehicle mobility experts Cradlepoint and Xplore.

Register for Webinar Today