Mobile UC Adopted for Emergency, First-Responder Support

Air Force Reserve Command adopts joint solution from Agito, Rivada in support of emergency response operations.

By Adam Stone | Posted Dec 11, 2009
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Santa Clara, Calif.-based Agito Networks has gained attention lately with its efforts to bridge the gap between the mobile phone environment and fixed-line enterprise communications applications.

Now the company has announced another step forward, bringing its solutions into the highly secured homeland security and first-responder environments.

Specifically, the Air Force Reserve Command has selected Agito Networks and its partner, Washington D.C.-based Rivada Networks, to deliver their joint communications solution, Interoperable Communications Extension (ICE24), in support of homeland security emergency response operations. The $7 million contract runs over three years, said Rivada Vice President Rob Needham.

By forging links between fixed-line and mobile environments, Agito technology makes possible the kind of interoperability long sought by first responder agencies, said Agito chief marketing officer Pejman Roshan. "If I am a first responder in an emergency situation, no matter what happens to the commercial network, I can roam seamlessly onto the voice over IP network and continue that conversation without even knowing the difference."

In practical terms, this means, for example, that police and firefighters would be able to speak freely to one another, and to connect seamlessly to their command centers—something public safety officials have been striving to achieve since Sept. 11, 2001.

In recent years, jurisdictions have pursued interoperable radios for emergency communications, "but that only gets you part of the way. You still have video and data to worry about," Needham said, adding that this converged solution brings all those elements to bear.

By way of safeguarding these communications, Agito Networks’ technology has been developed according to the Federal Information Processing Standards, FIPS 140, a high-level encryption and security protocol.

The ICE24 kits are delivered by Rivada and enabled by Agito’s RoamAnywhere Mobility Router. They contain dual-mode (Wi-Fi/cellular) mobile devices, such as the Palm Treo Pro, as well as Wi-Fi access points for secure wireless communications, and a satellite dish for backhaul connectivity.

First responders have other connectivity options, Needham said. They can connect through VoIP solutions or through satellite connections, "but as far as we know we are the only ones with a successful hybrid of voice over IP, satellite, and cellular communications."

The capture of a federal government first-responder contract could give Agito a boost in its big-picture strategy. Right now the public sector accounts for 30 to 40 percent of the company’s deployed seats. It may not be the sole focus of marketing efforts, but it is a key piece of the Agito equation.

"We’re not positioning public sector as our strategic focus, but that doesn’t mean we are making something else our top focus either," Roshan said. "Public education, first responder, general enterprise—those are all areas we are keying in on and we haven’t had to do unusual acrobatics in any of these markets. The solution fits nicely in each."

As Agito and Rivada look to expand their footprint, they face challenges common to those seeking to position themselves in the world of public safety. By and large, public safety can be a high mountain to climb, due to the culture of the system.

"The public safety market is a very select crew, a very close-knit brotherhood. All the police chiefs and fire chiefs know one another," Needham said.

Some companies have found the quickest way into the market is to have a former first responder on staff, someone who speaks the native language.

Another approach, Needham said, is to go at it geographically. "The major cities are the drivers of the market in this particular space," he said. With this in mind, Rivada has secured a foothold in Los Angeles and New York City, with the hope that smaller municipalities will follow the big cities’ lead.

"Once they have seen that it has been road tested and the reliability is where they want it to be, then one thing leads to another," Needham said.

In capturing this market, "it is not the technology that is the challenge. It is in how to change the mindset, including the way the emergency personnel respond to an incident," he said. "Right now they are not in the mindset of even talking to an adjacent county. For this to work they need to change their processes, change the way that they train, so that they learn to work as a team with other first responder organizations."

It may be that a win at the federal level could push that agenda forward. If it’s good enough for the Air Force Reserve Command, other municipalities may be more open to persuasion.

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