Why professional smartphones need secure, special gadgets

Published: 27 Oct 2020
Author: Jukka Saari
Reading time: 16 min

This is the fifth in a series of blogs on how to bring smart and hybrid devices, complete with apps, into professional use. The posts cover key topics that help organizations move from traditional radio communication to a system that adds complementary broadband data.

Today’s question is: Why do professional smartphones need secure, special gadgets?

Users in a hybrid environment carry either a traditional professional radio, a smart device or a hybrid device. However, simply having the right device is not enough. Accessories or gadgets are also needed.

For public safety and mission critical users, the hybrid device is a tool, not an item for entertainment. And since it is a tool, it must work properly and fit its purpose. The communication device, together with its appropriate accessories and gadgets designed for specific operations, must form a full working package.

Your team can find new ways of working and get more benefits from the hybrid device and its professional apps, such as the Tactilon Agnet collaboration solution.

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Note that your standard radio accessories may not work properly with a hybrid device because they may not be able to cope with smartphone technology and its latest features and functions.

User in a hybrid world

As a professional user in a hybrid world, you will find yourself operating and using accessories or gadgets in one or more of three environments:

  1. Personal user environment
  2. Vehicle user environment
  3. Office user environment
The accessories and gadgets also need to be managed.

When you move from one environment to another, your hybrid device must adapt - quickly and easily. This means, for example, that you can take the device from its car cradle, carry it to the office and place it into a holder there. You can then pick it up again and place it in a wearable carrying holder or clip.

Accessories in the personal user environment

In the personal user environment, you are working while on the move and have your hybrid device with you. You will need an accessory or two for voice communication, as well as a carrying solution.

Additional gadgets may bring more benefits. For example, an extra battery is a great bonus in a long-duration operation if power is not available for charging or there is no time to leave the device connected to a charger. Usually, the device will be put on charge when in the office or vehicle.


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Traditional voice accessories include external PTT (Push to Talk), speaker microphone, headset, skull microphone, smoke diving mask microphone, and helmet microphone. These can be connected to a hybrid device or smartphone by a so-called HUB.

Fireman uses gadgets with hybrid smart device

Like all accessories, audio accessories must be tested to work with the hybrid device before bringing them into use. This is because they may be designed for older or different technology and thus may interfere with the hybrid device. Accessories based on different technologies often have different connectors, and testing minimizes the risk of using the wrong one.

Carrying solutions, such as wearable holders, belt clips and special pockets, can help the user on the move. Note that a hybrid device must also be handy to use, not just carry – and a HUB solution can be just the ticket. It lets you carry the device inside a pocket or clipped to your belt, while an accessory connected to the HUB lets you control the device. Easy!

Airport professional uses Tactilon Dabat hybrid device in a carrying solution

What about standard smartphone accessories?

There is an abundance of Bluetooth accessories available for smartphones, although many are meant only for consumer-type use. Public safety and critical organizations require their accessories to be rugged and professional. Wireless Bluetooth earpieces for Android/iOS are often compatible with smartphones and hybrid devices, and those designed for sports or other active uses may also be robust enough for professional use.

In addition, mission-critical accessories have been developed to work together with the Tactilon Agnet smartphone app. These accessories interact with the app through an API interface and can control the application remotely – for example, change groups or make an emergency call.

Because vendors have different API interfaces, it’s important that the mission-critical application provider has tested the accessory, smart device and the app together. This is the only way to know they will work together in operational use.

Airbus helps accessory and app developers with this through its SmarTWISP program.

For any user, it is important to be able to select accessories for different purposes - there is no such thing as a “one-fits-all” accessory.


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New gadgets or concepts

Many ideas and new concepts for smart solutions are already being developed, and the HUD (head up display) is one of them. Projecting the display outside the device, for example onto a helmet visor or the windshield of a car, is an idea that first originated in the design for combat aircraft.

Another new gadget idea is for measuring people’s body temperature with a thermographic camera installed on a helmet. This camera will “see” if a person in a crowd has a higher than normal body temperature. This solution has been used at airports to screen individuals for fever (and thus a possible Covid-19 infection).

Another special gadget is a wrist computer or a smart watch for controlling the hybrid device.

Although separate wearable cameras can be used, this means an extra device to carry and charge. A better solution is to have the camera integrated into the hybrid device. For example, the hybrid Tactilon Dabat device features a built-in camera.


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Authentication between the gadget and the hybrid device is extremely important. Before bringing any gadget into use, check the level of information security it offers. For example, check if Near Field Communication (NFC) can be used for authentication.

Better information with sensors

Sensors can be used to collect a variety of data for both personal and organizational use. This data can even be used to estimate or predict what is going to happen. This can greatly improve situational awareness.

Personal sensors can measure your pulse rate, blood pressure or level of adrenaline. This information can provide a warning of deteriorating performance. Mission control can assess the situation and send in a replacement or backup if necessary.

Another example: if a police officer draws the service weapon from its holster, this can trigger the hybrid device to turn on its built-in camera or to make an emergency call to ensure the user’s safety.

When an emergency call is made, the user is in emergency mode. The control center needs to have full information on what is going on. The hybrid device can provide this information automatically and by a remote request – with no action needed from the user.

Accessories in the vehicle user environment

In the vehicle user environment, you are working inside or on a vehicle – for example in a car, van, truck, ambulance, or boat – or on a motorcycle or even a snow scooter.

In this environment, you will need a vehicle kit that holds and charges the hybrid device.
The hybrid device must be easy to mount and remove from the holder, preferably with one hand. Additionally, a hands-free set with PTT would be convenient for the driver. A smart holder could allow the hybrid device to be used from a tablet.


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Tactilon Dabat in a car kit

The hybrid device needs to connect or be paired with the vehicle’s communication system. When the device is connected or paired, it can, for example:

  • Charge itself while it’s in the car kit holder
  • Be controlled through another device in the vehicle – for example the vehicle display or a separate tablet – because it is easier to use the device and its apps on the move when the display is large
  • Enjoy wider coverage for broadband, TETRA and positioning satellites, thanks to the more powerful vehicle antennas
  • Connect to the vehicle’s audio system
  • Connect to a multi-bearer router
  • Use the 4G/5G connection of the vehicle or another local network.

These connections or pairings need to work automatically, without any need for action or adjustment from the user.

Tactical bubbles

Where standard 4G/5G coverage is not sufficient, so-called tactical bubbles can be deployed.

The solution may be either a smart device in the car kit holder using an external 4G/5G antenna, or a mobile 4G/5G base station in the vehicle. Both solutions form a Wi-Fi bubble to connect the devices in and around the vehicle, allowing them to access each other and the outside world.

In the future, 5G will be used to chain devices, and this will replace Wi-Fi bubbles. When 4G/5G coverage is not available, satellite connections can be used to provide a communication channel or even establish a local tactical bubble.

Many options for vehicles

Versatile gadgets can be paired with the hybrid device and controlled by a tablet. For example, the police can use gadgets such as:

  • radars for measuring speed
  • car registration plate readers
  • apps to recognize the color and model of a car
  • a facial recognition app to quickly identify a person of interest
  • navigation solutions based on satellite positioning instead of reading a map.

In addition, the dashboard camera and other cameras installed in a vehicle can offer a 360° view for observation. Drones bring new possibilities for surveillance or for missing person searches, for example.

Better information with sensors

In addition to providing information about the surroundings, sensors can also be used to monitor the vehicle itself. Sensors will detect faults, such as a broken light or a low pressure tire. This data can be transferred to a central database or to a maintenance team who can then schedule and optimize service breaks for the vehicle.

Special equipment on the vehicle may also need monitoring. A sensor installed for a locked cabinet for police weapons, such as a machine gun or a rifle, can recognize when the weapon is taken out. This is a special situation that can automatically trigger an alert to the dispatcher, turn on the camera of the hybrid device and start video streaming. This improves situational awareness and helps boost user safety.

Monitoring the environment and road gives valuable information about weather conditions. If the sensors indicate that the road is icy, the dispatcher can warn other units heading to the same destination.

Accessories in the office user environment

In the office environment, you are working in a standard office room in a building or in a mobile workspace built into a vehicle or camper van.

In the office, your hybrid device needs a docking station or holder for easy and quick insertion. The hybrid device can then connect directly to the office network, landline or Wi-Fi and be part of a seamless two-way data exchange.

A goose neck microphone or headset lets you use the hybrid device without taking it out of the docking station.

A charger is usually integrated in the docking station. Also a separate travel or desktop charger can be used.

Your hybrid device can also be controlled by connecting it to a PC or tablet.

Managing accessories and gadgets

The big questions are how to manage the range of accessories and gadgets, and who will do it. Where can the settings be stored securely?

The best answer is to adopt a management tool designed for this purpose. In addition, there must be a clear process which describes how to deal with issues such as:

  • If the hybrid device is lost, stolen or broken, how can we pair all its existing accessories to the new replacement device so they can be used?
  • If the hybrid device user drives different cars on different days, how can the device be paired with the vehicle communication solution in each car?
  • And vice versa: how can each vehicle’s communication solution recognize and audit all the allowed hybrid devices?
  • How will the device be paired, with Bluetooth or with a cable?

Taqto device management in an office environment

Pool versus personal

In public safety organizations, radios are often available to users around the clock, based on a radio or device pool. However, the earpieces and headsets are personal for hygiene and ergonomic reasons.

The same principle is logical when the pool consists of hybrid devices - the devices are in shared use but accessories are usually personal. The pairing of personal accessories is an issue that needs to be planned - it is extremely important that this works well.

Whitelisting

The organization is responsible for the information security of the devices, accessories and gadgets. This is why it also needs to make a ‘whitelist’ of accepted accessories. Non-approved accessories are a security risk. Using a non-approved accessory could lead to unauthorized parties gaining access to digital or spoken information.

In addition, Airbus recommends that organizations choose their accessories from SmarTWISP partners. These accessories have been tested by the developers and again tested to be interoperable with the Tactilon Dabat hybrid device. This process assures information security and makes sure that the technical solution between the two products is good. For example, the tested accessory will not damage or cause interference to Tactilon Dabat.

In summary

New technologies, accessories and gadgets offer many opportunities for hybrid device users to benefit from the latest innovations and the newest devices and their features.

Hybrid devices are a great improvement for public safety and mission critical users. The combination of broadband and narrowband technologies opens huge possibilities to increase the efficiency of public safety and mission critical operations.

When your organization is evolving from PMR to broadband, make plans for hybrid accessories and gadgets as well.

Your next smart step

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This series of blog posts covers topics to help organizations with the transition from traditional radio communication to hybrid solutions.

This was the fifth in the series, and the previous posts covered:

Future blog posts in this series will cover more aspects of adopting hybrid solutions, smartphones or apps for professional use, so be sure to look out for them.

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The Secure Communications blog gives you insights into critical communications future, secure and critical communications, public safety and other professional apps, current events, Tetrapol and TETRA radios, and active paging, for example.