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Rugged Phones:
Why first
responders need
rugged phones
and reliable networks

Author: Phil Muncaster

When first responders arrive on scene, every second counts. Lives could be on the line. The immediate environment may even be hostile.  A first responder’s ability to communicate quickly and effectively with both command and their colleagues is absolutely critical to rapid decision-making.

Rugged phones and ruggedized tablets are designed to work in extreme conditions. Emergency services leaders understand the importance of reliable networks. Therefore, innovative responder technology could be key in helping them make fast and what could be lifesaving decisions. 

What emergency responders want from their devices

"Emergency services" covers an admittedly broad range of both organizations and situations. From firefighters and emergency medical technicians to police, from the coastguard to mountain rescue—first responders often find themselves in high-stress or unanticipated scenarios.

These demanding conditions call for devices which often differ from most commercial smartphones. Typical features for rugged phones include:

  • High-resolution display to view information easily even in challenging environments
  • Capable of use even while wearing protective equipment such as thick gloves
  • Push-to-talk (PTT) capabilities to connect with others at the push of a button
  • Durable enough to continue functioning even if dropped or submerged briefly in water
  • Ability to share location, images and videos to improve outcomes
  • Long-lasting, fast-charging and replaceable batteries
  • Ability to secure data on the device and in transit

What first responders need from their networks

While rugged phones and devices are critical, reliable network services and coverage are equally important. After all, there's no point in having a state-of-the-art device if the network is congested or otherwise inaccessible when first responders try to use it. To that end, you need a network provider you can trust—one with a long track record of delivering robust, reliable services you can stake a life on.

The responder technology wish list for first responders typically includes:

  • Low-cost, standards-based ways to communicate with an extended group of first responders. In practice, this means services based on 3GPP mission-critical push-to-talk (MCPTT) standards, to augment existing Land Mobile Radio (LMR) networks which could enhance areas with scarce radio spectrum
  • PTT support, which goes beyond traditional voice and include video streaming and text to help increase situational awareness
  • Real interoperability, so that first responders can communicate with whomever—and whenever—they choose, regardless of platform, network or device
  • Wireless preemption to ensure first responders can get uninterrupted network access during emergency situations, even during peak demand
  • Wireless private network options, to deliver a more secure, controllable way to connect and communicate

What rugged phones and reliable networks deliver

With the right responder technology providers in place, emergency services agencies could see a range of benefits, including:

  • Near real-time communications for improved decision-making
  • Less concern about a dropped device or potential exposure to hazardous conditions
  • Increased ability to communicate while wearing protective gear
  • Confidence that devices are secured against cyber threats to personal and corporate data

Whether the agency provides devices or workers are required to bring their own devices, reliability and ruggedness are now standard for emergency responders.

Read more about how Verizon is enabling more effective emergency response for first responders with 5G.