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How Does Facility WiFi Bandwidth Impact GUARDIAN RFID Technology?

Technology is ever-expanding in the correctional environment. How can I ensure my facility’s WiFi bandwidth can support staff with the necessary tools to capture data and modernize operations?
Kenzie Koch
Kenzie Koch
Daniel Quam, Director of Product
Chris Riedmueller, Academy Trainer

When an agency is starting to expand its technology landscape, it’s natural to have questions about what the process will look like and what the future of the facility may hold. While the front-line officers and administration typically have questions about the day-to-day features of a new system, it’s typically the IT department that holds a checklist of the nitty-gritty questions that impact the facility’s entire tech environment. 

Being that GUARDIAN RFID is a technology company, after all, we get it! Embarking on a new journey that has the potential to change the trajectory of your agency is a lot to wrap your head around. Still, the onboarding process is the best time to pay attention to detail and make sure that all questions are answered clearly to avoid any confusion. 

GUARDIAN RFID team members are firm believers in “there is no such thing as a bad question.” We understand that implementing our system is a big step and we want to ensure that all questions, big or small, are properly addressed and answered to the best of our ability. Coming from a company that deeply values the support that IT provides, GUARDIAN RFID team members appreciate when a prospect’s (or customer’s) IT department asks questions. And while some questions are driven by natural curiosity, most come from people with a budget at the forefront of their minds. This is also something that GUARDIAN RFID completely understands. We know our system isn’t cheap, and understanding what freedoms and limitations come with the system is entirely justified. That’s why this blog addresses one of the most popular questions that GUARDIAN RFID team members are asked today: How does facility bandwidth impact GUARDIAN RFID technology?

No WiFi = No BandWidth

First things first. Bandwidth is not a concern if a facility doesn’t already have WiFi. However, GUARDIAN RFID believes that bandwidth should be a concern because facilities should have WiFi. While some facilities can operate without it, WiFi is one of the puzzle pieces that help facilities keep up with technological advancements and continuously modernize their operations. 

WiFi became a common infrastructure in the general workforce back in 2000 (shortly after being invented in 1997) and has slowly been making its way into the realm of correctional facilities. 

While leveraging WiFi in government agencies has been a technological and financial hurdle for many, cybersecurity has advanced significantly over the past twenty years. Nowadays, WiFi is nearly required to be included in today’s modernized facilities. So, if you’re in a facility without WiFi, it may be time to consider adopting it.

For years, correctional facilities have deployed technology at a rapid pace. Whether it’s new technology in the hands of correctional officers or inmates,  technology has proven to enhance facility operations. From officers utilizing security cameras and data documentation tools for reviewing facility activities to inmates using inmate tablets and kiosks for staying connected to the outside world, WiFi has demonstrated several advantages to keep the functionality of facility operations running smoothly.

Once facility administration recognizes all the benefits that come with WiFi-enabled modernization, they’re faced with the decision to bring in a WiFi vendor. So, let’s cover the questions that most staff have about WiFi requirements. Listed below are the most common questions that GUARDIAN RFID team members are asked during the Sales and implementation process: 

1. Does GUARDIAN RFID require WiFi to work? 

The short answer is: No. HOWEVER, there are several caveats. Because GUARDIAN RFID is a cloud-based solution, all information gathered would need to be uploaded via the web in order to populate electronic logs. Although this can be accomplished by utilizing Ethernet charging cradles, the devices sync and update ONLY when they are connected to the Ethernet charging cradle. Depending on how often an officer can get to the cradle, it may be several hours before their device has an updated inmate roster or can accurately communicate temporary movements and supplies with other devices. Conversely, when WiFi is enabled, the devices automatically sync this information and communicate with all other devices in near real-time, allowing officers to always have the same information and enhanced safety.

2. My WiFi vendor won’t allow me to use their network, can you recommend what we need?

Your network administrator, either contract or internal, can advise you on the number of access points needed to get the desired WiFi coverage for GUARDIAN RFID implementation (which may not be as many access points as expected!). Please see our other article addressing this topic. 

3. If I add WiFi to the facility, how can I ensure staff or inmates won’t access the network?

This comes down to your network administrator, but, GUARDIAN RFID utilizes software to prevent SPARTANs from accessing any mobile app that is not pre-approved by the facility (Facebook, 5.11 Tactical, Tinder … you get the idea). Additionally, your data is kept safe by storing it in AWS servers (with Gov Cloud available), limiting access only to authenticated users.

Maximizing Bandwidth Can Boost Correctional Operations

When considering the implementation of WiFi inside a facility, it’s important to calculate bandwidth as it plays a crucial role in determining the overall coverage, stability, and speed. 

The Google definition of “Bandwidth” is defined as: the maximum amount of data transmitted over an internet connection in a given amount of time. In other words, bandwidth directly affects the capacity of the network to accommodate data traffic, which in turn impacts both the connection’s coverage and stability. For example, a high bandwidth allows you to upload and download data quickly and a low bandwidth means data will take longer to load. 

Facilities are fast-paced and their technology needs to match the complexity and swift pace of all that takes place inside a correctional environment. There is no time for lagging or sluggish movement while conducting rounds or capturing data. That’s why a facility’s WiFi coverage, stability, and speed always need to be strong, further demonstrating the importance of secure bandwidth.

While desired WiFi speed can be accomplished with most carriers, it’s important to note that we are well past the days when single-digit Mbps speed was acceptable. Nowadays, adequate bandwidth is heavily responsible for ensuring reliable and robust WiFi performance.

Daniel Quam
GUARDIAN RFID | Director of Product

Consider the average iPhone, for example. Certain iPhone apps can use up loads of mobile data. Social media apps in particular, such as Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and Snapchat, are all culprits of taking up copious amounts of data usage. Why these apps specifically? Because their purpose is to be image and video-heavy. Just like how downloading music or streaming videos on a laptop can take up tons of space and slow down the speed, the bandwidth of any device is something that needs to be taken into account when managing large files and content-heavy applications. 

Given the amount of data that corrections officers need, both to document their activities and receive accurate data throughout their shift, having low bandwidth isn’t really an option in order to effectively manage facility operations. However, even if a facility has a very high bandwidth capacity, officers still need to be mindful of the data they are managing. Similar to how uploading or downloading large files can slow down a laptop or cell phone, they can also affect the speed and space of any tech device, including a SPARTAN. 

What is considered a “normal” amount of data collection varies from facility to facility. No facility's operations are identical, and neither are the amounts of data they work with. While most would consider that normal data collection entails uploading items such as security checks, others may think uploading multiple 2-minute videos throughout all shifts for every refusal or unruly behavior is normal. Of course, any facility that is constantly uploading these videos every day will have a much different bandwidth capacity versus a facility that mindfully uploads critical information regarding inmate movements and activities. GUARDIAN RFID considers it a best practice when using an Officer Experience Platform to upload required records like video for refusals and unruly behaviors, late round justifications, and images of broken equipment and contraband. 

What If My Agency Already Has a Third Party Wireless Vendor?

When a prospect is weighing whether or not GUARDIAN RFID is a fit for their facility, they tend to look at the overall cost from all angles to ensure the right infrastructure exists and that there isn’t any overlap with other existing vendors, and if there is, if the existing infrastructure has the capability of serving each vendor’s unique needs. GUARDIAN RFID respects this process. If the agency is doing its due diligence by identifying areas that already exist, we will support them and even point out the penny-pitching efforts that we can detect. 

From GUARDIAN RFID’s experience, the one agency department that typically has the most questions regarding utilizing existing systems and materials is the IT team. IT professionals are experts at highlighting questions that usually go unnoticed by the rest of the staff until it becomes a problem for the whole facility. This is why GUARDIAN RFID encourages agencies to invite their IT team to join any GUARDIAN RFID-related sales demonstrations or pre-implementation meetings. 

We like to ensure that all teams are on board and thoroughly understand expectations before getting into the complexity of implementation. That’s why we openly welcome, and suggest, that all departments attend our meetings and ask questions. We believe that asking questions not only directly addresses concerns and uncertainties, but helps drive engagement and participation. This usually leads to building a relationship with the prospect or customer, which is something we deeply value at GUARDIAN RFID. 

And speaking of transparency, one of the most popular questions we hear from IT departments other than “Are the current wireless access points (WAP) strong enough?” is “If we use a third-party vendor WAP, will that be strong enough?” Any IT specialist who asks these specific questions is in the correct line of work - they know exactly what they’re talking about and are making sure that they are getting the most out of the system by covering all their bases. 

Of course, everything will be dependent on the number of active devices being used at any given time in your facility, as well as how frequently your staff interacts with your inmate population (but we have found the bandwidth needed to be fairly low). Most of the data transmitted is going to be lines of text, which will of course be very small files. Higher demand will come from multiple photos or videos being uploaded.

Regarding utilizing existing third-party systems, as of today, GUARDIAN RFID can use third-party vendors including Securus, ViaPath, PayTel, and Smart Communications. This opens many doors for agencies already utilizing these technologies to save on costs as well as saving time and energy from streamlined onboarding processes.

Technology expansion will continue to steadily increase in the corrections industry. While it’s important to ensure all WiFi and bandwidth capabilities are maximized to increase the swift transfer of data collection and communication among staff, it’s more important for the staff who utilize the technology to thoroughly understand how the technological improvements and upgrades will empower them to best suit the needs of their facility operations for the foreseeable future.