Driving Toward In-Vehicle LANs

The ability to extend network connectivity to vehicles has significantly improved the way that countless organizations do business, with modern vehicles from ambulances to mass transit cars and school buses now containing multiple connected devices like tablets, video cameras, and payment systems. But rather than maintaining an Internet connection for each piece of hardware, many businesses are now seeking to create a single in-vehicle LAN for device connectivity.

That said, wireless in-vehicle deployments aren't without challenges. The mobile nature of these networks presents many obstacles.

But why is this trend emerging? And why does the transformative potential extend far beyond simple device management?

The Drive to Mobile Connectivity

As digital transformation continues to create the need for a flexible, agile network, traditional tethers to the central office have all but vanished. Physical boundaries continue to decrease in importance, and organizations of all types require constant and dependable in-vehicle connectivity to keep up with changing business imperatives and to engage with their customers outside traditional venues. Dependable mobile connectivity keeps vehicles on the road longer, helps enterprises better manage their fleets, and allows businesses and organizations to better serve their customers.

For mobile enterprises that can't afford downtime, 4G LTE networking offers a reliable, secure, and cost-effective means to ensure always-on connectivity. Of course, the transportation sector and in-vehicle connectivity present challenges not found in a traditional office environment. For instance, traveling along bumpy roads, traversing service areas, and powering devices using a vehicle battery are all factors that require special consideration and planning. In-vehicle networking solutions should take into account all aspects of virtual and physical layouts, as well as anticipated usage. For many, this means deploying a single LAN to make these connections and optimize their usage.

Organizations are deploying network connectivity in fleet vehicles for a whole host of reasons. Internet of Things (IoT) systems now make it possible to update and track inventory automatically. GPS tracking gives businesses the ability to identify the locations of their fleet vehicles, as well as to monitor stops, watch for unnecessary trips and mileage, and recognize safe drivers -- all from a remote location using cloud-based software.

With constant mobile connectivity, vehicles can deploy digital signage -- configuring and updating it remotely. For enterprises with security concerns, video streaming offers the advantage of real-time surveillance, making it possible to monitor security from a remote location and alert authorities immediately when problems arise.

First responders and emergency services use mission-critical mobile connectivity to monitor, analyze, and diagnose patients on the road. Paramedics can access vital information and update records immediately, while law enforcement officers use secure connectivity to check drivers' licenses and vehicle registrations, and file digital incident reports in real time. These features and more help enterprises keep their people on the road longer and at headquarters less often.

When it comes to commercial in-vehicle connectivity, today's transit commuters and leisure travelers want Internet access almost as much as they want a seat and an on-time arrival. Offering guest Wi-Fi is simply part and parcel of creating a good customer experience. Rolling enterprises must be able to offer commuters heightened productivity while blocking undesirable content and managing bandwidth usage. Tour bus companies can use 4G LTE to capture passengers' data when they log into Wi-Fi for market research and customer insights, while food trucks need connectivity for live social feeds and streaming video, as well as to operate digital menus and manage point-of-sale systems.

Deployment Best Practices

Decision makers should move strategically when deploying mobile connectivity solutions by following industry best practices. It's beneficial to view the network in vehicles not simply as a separate technical endeavor, but rather as an extension of the organization's existing systems. The network should integrate seamlessly with existing infrastructure with consistent policies, management, and security.

For optimal operation, wireless routers require regular software and firmware updates, configuration, maintenance, and troubleshooting. One challenge for many organizations is that they are logistically unable to dock their fleet several times a week in a centralized location to install updates, fix issues, or even transmit data. Cloud-based remote management platforms can enable software and firmware updates, configurations, security patches, and maintenance of wireless devices from a remote location, all the while ensuring that sensitive data stays safe.

Reliable connectivity depends on correct placement of the wireless router and antenna, and placement needs differ based on the vehicle design, size, and connectivity expectations. For instance, vehicles transporting many users could require multiple routers to serve high-volume needs, but usually space is limited.

It's vital for routers to be installed with an understanding of the physical and virtual barriers that may hinder or even sever connectivity. Each router needs to be correctly placed and installed for maximum connectivity. The number of devices needed to best serve all passengers must be calculated based on anticipated usage. Physical security is also important, with many organizations opting to keep networking devices behind locked panels or in cabinets.

From trains speeding down the track to school buses navigating bumpy rural roads, vehicles often experience high levels of vibration. Routers must be able to withstand rough terrain without coming loose from the vehicle or breaking. Installation brackets should be designed to handle the roughest of terrains without coming unscrewed or breaking.

Connecting in-vehicle devices as a LAN is a trend that continues to develop as technologies evolve. Yet another fundamental shift in connectivity is predicted to follow implementation of Gigabit LTE and 5G. But for now, 4G LTE networks continue to prevail and businesses can depend on this mobile connectivity to realize their full potential and better serve their customers.