As massive wildfires ravage the west coast of the U.S. and hurricanes strike the east coast, first responders combatting the disasters have to deal with the impact these disasters have on their communications.
“When we learned that wildland firefighters typically lose communications when they go past the fireline because the best communications are vehicle mounted or the repeaters are down, we thought it shouldn’t be that way,” said goTenna CEO Daniela Perdomo.
One option first responders have when a network goes down during a disaster is mesh networking. Enabling technology, such as a goTenna Pro device, can connect to a smartphone and unlock the smartphones to allow them to pair with other unlocked smartphones and devices, allowing communications between users even when the network is down.
Mesh networking has not always been an option for first responders such as firefighters because of the high cost, large form factor and complexity of many traditional mesh networking products but units like the goTenna Pro are smaller, cheaper and easy to set up because they connect directly into a user’s smartphone.
“It’s the decoder for communications,” said Perdomo. The mesh networking devices enable any applications a user would traditionally have access to on their smartphone, enabling interoperability with other smartphones, LMR radios and more. An open software development kit (SDK) also allows users to create whatever integrations they need to other applications and equipment.
Users on a mesh network are provisioned using a software portal, and the enabling devices provide end-to-end security, said Perdomo. Because only devices that are provisioned and given access are able to communicate on the mesh network, the technique provides secure communications for operations where communication security is critical, such as tactical law enforcement activities.
Additionally, multiple mesh networking devices can be enabled to create a network. For example, a law enforcement agency on the southern U.S. border, which operates in a harsh, remote area, will drop multiple units along a certain area and then use those devices to create a path from one user to other users much further away.
The mesh networking technology can also be used to quickly interoperate with agencies providing mutual aid or volunteering. During a keynote at the International Wireless Communications Expo’s (IWCE) Virtual Event, former Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate advocated mesh networking as a way to quickly provide volunteers with communications during disasters such as hurricanes.
“The people who are putting their lives on the line should always have communications,” said Perdomo. “Mesh networking ensures more efficient missions and ensures that first responders can make it back safely.”