A recent article in Homeland Security Newswire gave us a bit of a laugh this past month.
In the article, some German technologists were promoting the idea that first responders could use a patched-together system of consumer home wifi systems for their communications. There would be an emergency “switch” that the responders can use to set their backup network, which could give a voice and data link all via the Internet.
The article says that because many routers already have a guest mode, this could be done without invading the home owners privacy or even impeding their own use of the Internet.
Interapt’s position is that this is a very unsettling and unreliable idea. Frankly, we don’t like it at all.
Here are five reasons why we think home wifi networks should not be used by first responders.
#1. First responders often have to transmit enormous amounts of data. A connected system of neighborhood routers might not be able to accommodate blueprints, video and audio communications. The StemComm system we created for first responders provides 180 megabytes per second of bandwidth, and it can be quickly scaled up to handle 50,000 more users. That’s more than entire neighborhood is going to be able to provide.
#2. First responders cannot rely on people to be responsible for having their systems up and running. They also would have no way to contact them to remind them to turn on their systems. Since everyone is responding to the issue, you can’t send someone to knock on everyone’s door and ask them to reboot their router or help them set it up properly.
#3. In a weather event or a power outage, many of these homeowners routers may not even be up and running. Just an hour north of us, in Henryville, Indiana, half the town was wiped out by tornados. Any plan that involved using neighborhood routers was immediately broken.
#4. The German technologists are assuming that these patched together commercial home routers have a robust set of servers and bandwidths to handle the massive bandwidth. There are plenty of rural areas that have no high-speed Internet or wifi systems to even tap into. Again, a plan that involves using home wifi systems in an area where there are no wifi routers is useless.
#5. Connecting together several wifi systems creates an enormous security risk for the homeowners. With identity theft being one of the top problems we have today, it doesnt take a genius hacker to go in and hijack those signals, which would corrupt everyones systems. There are enough problems with home owners securing their home routers to begin with. Allowing the emergency switch creates one more weakness to a secure system.
Very honestly, at the risk of flogging our own product, the StemComm system is the best option for first responders who need to move a lot of voice and data communication. It’s a small trailer that creates a closed wifi system with a 10 mile radius. You only have to take the system to a first response site, start it up, and the first responders can use their smart phones and tablets to communicate and relay information, without depending on the existing wifi system at all.