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Autonet Mobile WiFi Hotspot

Written by Susan Geoghegan

With WiFi hotspots in locations such as airports, libraries and coffee shops, high-speed Internet access is readily available to laptop and mobile phone users through a wireless local area network (WLAN). Recent wireless advances, such as portable broadband devices and cellular cards, provide a permanent WiFi hotspot anywhere.

Once aimed strictly at mobile professionals who spend the majority of their time in transit, this type of technology is now being utilized by police officers in the field. Most patrol cars today are equipped with laptops, CAD software and hand-held ticketing devices that require a secure wireless connection.

Autonet Mobile is the first Internet provider designed specifically for vehicles that delivers a Telematic and Application service platform for the automotive transportation market. Combining 3G data technology and WiFi, Autonet Mobile goes beyond broadband by connecting multiple persons and multiple WiFi devices that work simultaneously on both 802.11b and 802.11g network protocols. Core apps/services include a fully automated E9-1-1/Airbag notification, Lo-Jack, Mapping and Fleet Dispatch/location, with additional applications also available.

The company’s proprietary and patented TRU Technology solution ensures a seamless connection over a Wide Area Network with virtually no dropped signals. Using cellular providers, the system runs over 3G, 2G and 1xRTT cellular data networks to connect with the strongest EVDO broadband signal.

Autonet Mobile operates on desktop computers, laptops, servers and hand-helds, and is compatible with any commercial operating system, including Windows, OSX, Linux and Solaris. A browser-based User Interface allows remote monitoring, configuring and updating. Autonet Mobile offers Telematics technology, a blending of wireless voice and data communications that delivers location-specific information and enhanced productivity services.

As the company’s channel sales manager for the public sector, Angelia Karrer says that with Telematics, “Data from the vehicle can aid in maintenance and ‘bread crumbing’ the vehicle’s activities including speed, fuel consumption and idling.” Extensively tested for extreme temperatures and vibration, it has received OEM-level certification as an after-market accessory.

Autonet Mobile’s flat-rate plans offer more services and benefits than a broadband card at a fraction of the price. With Autonet Mobile, up to 10 users can connect at the same time, as opposed to five with MiFi. While broadband’s WiFi range tops out at 30 feet, Autonet ensures a connection as far as 150 feet from the vehicle. And unlike MiFi and cell cards that are not external antenna-compatible, Autonet offers an integrated WiFi/WAN antenna for uninterrupted connectivity.

The system is hard-wired into the vehicle with a router that requires two wires (ground and power) and is powered by the ignition key. The router comes with a docking station that can be mounted in various spots inside the vehicle—generally the trunk of an automobile or the cab of a truck.

In recent years, Autonet Mobile has partnered with several automobile manufacturers to provide wireless connectivity to their factory vehicles. In 2008, Chrysler teamed with Autonet to launch its first in-vehicle wireless service known as UConnect. The following year, General Motors followed suit with select Buick, Chevrolet, Cadillac and GMC models. Autonet has also partnered with Dodge and Volkswagen and will provide WiFi connectivity for Subaru’s 2011 Outback SUV.

Autonet Mobile for the Public Sector

Autonet Mobile provides seamless connectivity to mobile command sites, giving officers instant access to Web-based information, such as NCIC, city and county databases, as well as online mapping applications. The system integrates with GPA and AVL vehicle applications, while military-grade WPA/WPA2 encryption and VPN pass-through provide a secure connection between computers. Autonet Mobile’s robust data network and CDMA (Code Divison Multiple Access) cellular technology eliminate network overload and allow more users to connect simultaneously.

A number of police, fire and rescue agencies nationwide have chosen Autonet’s WiFi connectivity solution. As a potential purchaser of the system, the North Carolina State Highway Patrol recently tested Autonet Mobile over the span of several months. Other than an unspecified failure during the testing period (which the company immediately addressed), NCSHP’s IT Manager Allan Sadowski was personally impressed with the product. He stated, “We had to ‘pry’ the device away from the officers at the end of their test period. They wanted to keep it.”

Sadowski found that the device was compatible with all their existing IP-enabled applications, which include eCitation, CAD, Internet and external Web sites, and e-mail. While budgetary concerns preclude the use of Autonet Mobile agency-wide, it is still being considered for other areas of the department.

California’s East Bay Regional Park District was established in 1934 to protect wildlife and preserve the natural beauty of the land. With 65 parks spanning 100,000 acres, it is the largest regional park district in the United States. Seeking enhanced connectivity throughout the region, the district is currently testing several wireless solutions, among them Autonet Mobile.

As public safety systems administrator, Steve Albonico oversees research, development and support of all computer and tech-related systems for the police and fire divisions. According to Albonico, the district is looking for a cost-effective system that provides optimal coverage, quality and support. He points out that due to weak signaling in the remote areas of the region, a wireless solution that offers strong, constant connectivity is of prime importance.

Thus far, he has not noticed a significant difference in the number of dropped calls among the vendors. However, he does point out that with Autonet Mobile, recovering a lost connection is easier because the actual device does not require software to operate (unlike broadband and cell cards). He said, “There [is] no need to have to reconnect manually through software; once you’re connected to the Wi-Fi signal, the router handles everything else.”

Located 10 minutes north of Montgomery, Millbrook is one of Alabama’s fastest growing cities. Last year, the Millbrook Police Department had occasion to utilize Autonet Mobile’s wireless technology in tracking down a burglary suspect. On June 22, 2009, when officers responded to a burglary in progress, they found the suspects had already fled, but a witness was quickly located.

According to Chief P.K. Johnson, the area in which the crime occurred is often not signal friendly, but in this case, they were able to access the Internet via Autonet Mobile and compose a photo lineup. He said, “The ability to compose a photo lineup on the scene was key in swiftly making contact with the suspects in the vehicle. The case was later closed by the arrest of the offenders.”

Autonet Mobile requires a one-year minimum service agreement that includes WiFi connectivity, customer support, remote access and software upgrades. The rate plans range in price from $29 per month (for 1GB) to $59 per month (for 5GB). Subscribers are not subject to taxes, surcharges or MB over-usage fees. The router is typically priced at $499, but varies depending on what sales channel the customer is purchasing from.

Full technical support service is available at no additional charge and allows customers to connect with a live support person who can remotely access the router and walk them through any issue they may be experiencing. Autonet Mobile is not currently available in Canada.

Susan Geoghegan is a freelance writer living in Naples, Florida. She can be reached at sgeofl@ embarqmail.com.

Published in Police Fleet Manager, Nov/Dec 2010

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