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  • Posted Tuesday, August 2, 2016

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Device Mobility in Correctional Settings is an Expertise

Giving inmates access to technology so that they can consume various types of permitted content and services safely and securely comes in essentially three flavors: static, Wi-Fi, and cellular 4G/LTE.

Static or tethered solutions are deployments of devices that can only be updated by being plugged into a fixed point connection, typically a kiosk.  Not only do you rule out real-time interactive services, but there are real concerns about the user experience to take into consideration.  Will the inmates get frustrated by having to connect infrequently?  Are the offenders getting the maximum rehabilitative benefit from the service if they can only update occasionally?  What happens if the incarcerated have to queue up for hours at a time in order to update their devices?  What kind of a burden does this impose on the facility IT staff in terms of maintaining a segregated fixed line connection, along with the related points of access?

Mobility is desirable.

But, Wi-Fi has its own set of problems.  While it may be tempting to think that the physical environment of a jail or prison is sufficient to prevent access to external Wi-Fi networks, that particular kind of lazy assumption can be dangerous.

Wi-Fi is not nearly as secure as cellular 4G/LTE, either.  Cellular 4G/LTE builds upon the bedrock of CDMA technology, the most secure wireless communications platform in the world.

For devices that use Wi-Fi to connect to the network, you cannot be entirely sure that they are connecting to the facility network.  They may be able to hack into other networks, or they may be able to set up other security breaches in which an offender’s associates set up rogue access points in order to communicate with the device behind bars.  Here’s an entertaining video showing a seven-year-old British girl hacking into a device after watching a short video she found after a cursory web search.

But, isn’t cellular 4G/LTE often weak in correctional environments given the constraints of the physical plant?  This is occasionally true, but the proliferation of so-called “swag” phones (or, illegal phones) in correctional facilities suggests that it is not as true as some might think.  Illegal phones are a significant form of contraband and they are used to do things that make correctional facilities explicitly more dangerous.

Some facilities have abundant ambient cellular signal; others have very poor signal, or intermittent signal, because of their physical location with respect to cellular towers, or constraints imposed by the physical plant such as metal and glass that blocks transmission.

Resolving cellular 4G/LTE signal in correctional environments is a difficult skill.  It requires an understanding of correctional environments and a good sense of the leading edge of wireless technology solutions.

With more than two years in the field, in correctional facilities across the country, American Prison Data Systems, PBC has developed this unique expertise.  We have seen almost every conceivable problem with signal transmission.  In one case, the local cellular tower sent its signal over a county jail which was located in a deep bowl in the terrain.  In another case, the city’s IT infrastructure included a critical radio system that was using wireless spectrum illegally, interfering with signal for our devices.  We have been deployed in segregated housing units with especially challenging physical layouts and in facilities that happen to lie at the conflicting transmission circles of two separate towers.

We have learned from all of these situations and found different ways to resolve weak ambient signal.

This experience has made us one of the most knowledgeable end users when it comes to signal augmentation in the Verizon system.

So much so, that when Verizon was conducting the final beta tests on some advanced signal equipment, they asked us to deploy it in one of our client facilities.  We ended up identifying problems that they had not anticipated.  This tight relationship has meant that we were one of the first Verizon customers in North America to deploy this particular piece of equipment in the field.

We consider our implementation and support process to be a critical distinguishing factor.  Our wireless signal runs fast, true, and, most importantly, secure in all of our client facilities with the kind of reliability America has come to expect from the number one wireless carrier nationally.