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Boosting in-building mobile connectivity for emergency services

Communication is vital for emergency services personnel working to save lives, both on the frontline and back at HQ. There are more than 300,000 emergency services staff in the UK, including police, fire and rescue and qualified ambulance operators, working tirelessly to protect civilians and react fast to emergencies. However, if their mobile phone signal is disrupted due to poor in-building mobile connectivity and these teams can’t coordinate an effective response, they may be putting lives at risk.

The recent pandemic, lockdown and subsequent easing of lockdown have shone a light on many of the issues faced by emergency services personnel. When we examine the state of emergency services and their priorities moving forward, mobile connectivity must be part of the picture, particularly when considering the impact of new digital technologies and 5G.

Here, we ask why and find out what steps can (and are) being taken to keep emergency services staff connected.

Why do emergency services stations need strong in-building mobile connectivity?

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Police stations, fire stations and ambulance service trusts need to ensure that their staff can connect to their mobile phone network wherever they are in the building. If poor mobile phone signal is leading to dropped calls and severed communication, this could have tragic consequences.

Perhaps an alarm system fails in a fire station, and a firefighter is unreachable on a separate floor, or a patient awaiting surgery is unable to contact their loved ones or colleagues. With the urgency required in these situations, poor mobile phone signal simply isn’t good enough.

As technology has evolved and smartphones have become an increasingly important part of our everyday lives, emergency services are considering the use of data as part of mission-critical communications.

For example, ambulances may send patient data to hospitals ahead of time, police could livestream body-cam footage, and fire and rescue crews might look at digital blueprints to create a plan of action for entering a burning building. These benefits are fantastic if mobile phone signal is available, but if staff back at HQ are unable to connect, then it is ineffective.

Frustratingly, emergency services buildings often contain construction materials that block mobile phone signal, such as metal, aluminium, concrete or fibreglass insulation. They can also consist of several connected ancillary buildings, meaning that phone signal can’t penetrate inside at the exact point it is needed.

With research showing that 80% of mobile phone usage occurs indoors, the chances are extremely high that emergency services employees will need to use their mobile phones in a crisis. That’s why police, fire and ambulance stations need comprehensive mobile signal coverage as a matter of priority.

What is the Emergency Services Network?

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The Emergency Services Network (ESN) represents a major attempt from the UK Government to boost comms for first responders. It aims to replace Airwave, the mobile communications network currently used by emergency services, with new high-speed mobile technology that will give priority to the emergency services over all other network traffic – even at peak times.

ESN promises to enable high-speed voice and data sharing across the 4G network, allowing information and expertise to be rapidly shared across first responders on the frontline.

It’s a massive project, including a large-scale infrastructure upgrade being undertaken phone operator EE and 300 phone masts being built by the government to extend ESN’s reach to remote parts of the UK. However, if emergency services buildings have poor mobile coverage, it won’t matter how many masts are built: they will still have poor coverage.

Providing an expanded 4G network is one thing, but the rollout of 5G could present exciting new benefits for emergency services, offering faster speeds, lower latency and far more reliable mobile connectivity.

For example, 5G would enable speedy sharing of HD video, allowing faster examination of CCTV footage or real-time sharing of bodycam/dashcam footage with emergency control rooms. This is all fantastic news, but again: only if buildings have strong, reliable mobile phone signal will emergency services be able to benefit.

How Cel-Fi can boost in-building mobile connectivity for emergency services

Depending on the success of the ESN project, it’s still vital that emergency services ensure their stations can provide full mobile connectivity for staff. Until now, many emergency services may have not been able to justify the investment of restructuring their buildings to eliminate poor mobile coverage. However, with a change in Ofcom’s licencing laws in 2018, there’s now an easy-to-deploy scalable and legal solution that is capable of amplifying mobile phone signal across their entire facility.

Authorised by 200 carriers globally, Cel-Fi can deliver first responders with comprehensive coverage across their buildings with a distributed antenna system that amplifies outdoor mobile phone signal and brings it indoors. This means that station staff have the tools they need to communicate effectively with first responders, react accordingly, and do what they do best: save lives.

Police stations, fire stations and ambulances services must remain a well-connected part of our infrastructure. If you’re a building manager struggling to provide your station with robust and reliable mobile connectivity, get in touch today on 0333 344 4417 or email, and we’ll respond quickly. All we need is a floorplan and a few details, and we’ll be able to provide you with a no-obligation quote.

Contact the team to discover how UCtel can improve your digital connectivity and communications.

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