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Catching up with Cradlepoint, as it forks into public safety

photo of cradlepoint router

Finding out that first responders were wiring Cradlepoint routers into vehicles themselves, the Boise company released it as a product. Photo courtesy of Cradlepoint

Cradlepoint, one of Boise’s most venerable startups, has created an arm focused on the company’s public sector and public safety products, geared toward first responders.

photo of estee woods

Estee Woods

While the public sector has been one of Cradlepoint’s four main markets for some time – the company makes mobile data network and wifi hardware and software – interest in public safety has ramped up recently, and not for a happy reason. Active shooter situations are among the primary drivers for the move, said Estee Woods, marketing director.

“Interoperability, and speed to resolution, is at the forefront,” she said.

Consequently, last year the company created a public sector and public safety team. The team has its own sales staff to focus on global public safety, which comprises about 30% of the company’s business overall.

“Within the last year, we’ve grown our customers by 200%,” Woods said.

Cradlepoint got involved in public safety through hacks by its first responder customers.

“Five years ago, our products weren’t really built for in-vehicle deployment,” Woods said.

Then, customers such as the Boise Police Department started wiring the company’s networking routers into police cars themselves, and Cradlepoint saw an opportunity, releasing an in-vehicle router in 2014, Woods said.

Now, Cradlepoint’s public safety products include routers with dual modems and dual Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards so one device can communicate with four different public safety carriers at once, including AT&T FirstNet, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile and US Cellular, Woods said.

That breadth of coverage is needed in rural Idaho, Woods said, noting that the Caldwell Fire Department covers 135 square miles.

“It’s not like the old days where they’d pull a book off the shelf and someone would navigate with a map,” she said. “Younger recruits don’t know how to use maps. They have tablets to look up where they’re going.”

Tablets also give first responders access to building plans and schematics, she added.

In addition, support for multiple public safety networks allows first responders to configure their networks to switch between them automatically based on performance.

“You can set routing protocols that say, ‘If network 1 degrades by 50%, go to network 2,’” Woods said. “We’re not a carrier, we’re a conduit.”

In emergencies, a first responder vehicle can even act as a wifi hotspot for other first responders, she said, describing one police car in Indiana that had 128 devices connected to it.

photo of ryan spencer

Travis Spencer

Now, Cradlepoint has more than 3,000 public safety customers worldwide, across five continents, Woods said.  For example, Payette County switched to Cradlepoint equipment, said Travis Spencer, a paramedic in the Fruitland-based organization.

“A previous agency had Cradlepoint, so I had a little bit of experience with their product,” he said.

The product Payette was using wasn’t as efficient in heat and weather, while Cradlepoint could withstand those conditions, Spencer said.

The public safety sector will start being able to take advantage of 5G, the next generation of mobile data, which is also another of Cradlepoint’s product lines. 5G offers faster speed and lower latency because it has denser transmitters, typically in a city.

“You probably won’t see a mobile solution for public safety for a year or so,” Woods said.

Boise is starting to get Verizon 5G transmitters now but no carrier has announced service for Boise yet, let alone anywhere else in Idaho. A number of cities, though, either have 5G or have 5G service announced by at least one carrier. Such services are primarily available in the more densely populated cities, or what Woods calls “NFL cities.”

But unlike the transition to 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE), which is what most smartphones use now, 5G won’t supplant 4G entirely, Woods said.

“4G LTE solutions are going to be a backhaul to 5G as well,” she said. “They’re going to work together.”

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