One question we're frequently asked: “Do we need Wi-Fi in order to use GUARDIAN RFID?”

In this blog, we’ll explain whether you need Wi-Fi. We'll also answer six other related questions to Wi-Fi and general connectivity of your SPARTANs.

To answer the first question: no, you don’t need Wi-Fi to use GUARDIAN RFID. But, as John Wooden said, “If you don't have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”

Is there a difference between Wi-Fi and Internet?

Yes, there’s a difference between Wi-Fi and Internet. And just because you have Wi-Fi, doesn’t mean you have Internet. Wi-Fi is an alternate way to network devices without cables. A Wi-Fi network is essentially a wireless local network.

Internet is a communication protocol. And when you have an Internet Service Provider (ISP) that provides connectivity to a wide area network (WAN), you’re part of a global network of devices and computers.

When you couple the two together, like you do to stream movies on Netflix or view feeds on Facebook, you’re using an Internet-accessible Wi-Fi network.

So, why does Wi-Fi matter?

Wi-Fi matters because corrections professionals need to know what’s going on now, not what happened 30 minutes, two hours ago, or last Tuesday, but what’s happening right now.

To avoid delays in data sharing, called information latency, Wi-Fi powers real-time data sharing to help you generate the business intelligence you need to create a safer, more connected facility to protect your team.

Information latency is the inability to communicate collected data with a software system or users of that system until the data has been shared or “synchronized.”

For example, a common use for connecting mobile devices to Wi-Fi is to synchronize guard tour data. This type of data often includes inmate-specific observations or interactions collected by staff during security rounds frequently throughout your shift.

if you’re using GUARDIAN RFID to automate cell checks, track inmate movements, or log razor passes, this data is temporarily stored on your handheld scanner until it has been synchronized.

Wi-Fi helps team members “push” this data to your reporting platform and other GUARDIAN RFID users automatically. There’s no need to deliberately go back to a docking cradle to push up this data when synchronizing your mobile device, like SPARTAN, can be automated naturally.

Without Wi-Fi, you’re relying on staff to go manually find, drop their device into a cradle, and sync, which is so 1990s. That’s been a longstanding turnoff of correctional facilities using proprietary guard tour devices.

What do I need to budget for Wi-Fi?

For the sake of full disclosure, GUARDIAN RFID does not sell, install, or support your Wi-Fi network. We definitely recommend deferring to your IT department or networking vendor. But in general, WI-Fi access points and the physical installation costs (cable pulling, if necessary, and its labor costs) are the primary cost areas.

What are the best access points?

Access points matter. Some access points (APs) are better suited for enterprise applications than others. What’s an access point? An access point is a hardware device that enables Wi-Fi enabled devices to connect to a wired local network powered by an Internet-accessible router.

So what are the best access points to use? Here’s a list of access points that are among the most commonly deployed by GUARDIANs across the U.S.:

Where should I place our access points?

You should deploy your access points wherever staff commonly walk or work. For GUARDIAN RFID, you don’t need wall-to-wall coverage. Drop APs wherever connecting your SPARTAN will be helpful to staff.

For example:

Segregated housing units (SHU): you don’t need Wi-Fi in every pod. You may find it’s more useful and practical to drop an access point centrally in the hallway that connects the pods of the SHU. When staff enter these pods to collect data, then exit, your SPARTAN will auto- sync device data to the Cloud instantly.

Podular direct supervision facilities: drop an access point inside the housing unit since your SPARTAN doesn’t often leave this area.

Podular indirect supervision and linear style facilities: centrally deploy your access points to enable Wi-Fi access in hallways and corridors or near your control rooms to create zone-like areas of Wi-Fi coverage.

Dorms: if it’s direct supervision, drop an AP in the dorm. If it’s not direct supervision, it’s up to you: just don’t make staff have to walk a long distance to connect to Wi-Fi.

Sallyport: Not necessary. Drop an AP in Booking for SPARTANs assigned there to sync cell checks on holding cells. Transport deputies can auto-sync their SPARTANs as soon as they walk into Booking.

What’s the term Store and Forward mean and why does it matter?

Store and forward means that if your SPARTAN has data needing to be synchronized but you’re outside of Wi-Fi range, this data remains on your device until connectivity is established and allows the data to be pushed to the GUARDIAN RFID Cloud. It literally takes 1-2 seconds to push data up, so the length of your connectivity to Wi-Fi only needs to be brief.

How do I protect my Wi-Fi network?

You can protect your Wi-Fi using a combination of approaches:

  • SSID.
    Decide whether to hide or publish your SSID (service set identifier). Hiding it alone doesn’t mean that it’s completely blind, but it’s a good measure. Hackers have the right tools to sniff traffic from your network, work to discover the SSID, and try to force intrusion. Not likely, but it’s possible. But if you’re broadcasting your SSID, you’re only inviting those to try to connect to it.
  • Password.
    Set a strong username and password to your Wi-Fi (at least 20 characters long with numbers, letters, and various symbols).
  • Encryption.
    Activate network encryption. WPA2 AES is a global standard. It will be replaced by WP3, which uses individualized data encryption that scrambles the connection between each device on the network and the router.

    Always try to use WPA2 with AES only. You should avoid the WPA [TKIP] + WPA2 [AES] option as it’s much less secure.
  • MAC filtering.
    It’s up to you. MAC address filtering adds an extra layer to this process. Before letting any device join the network, the router checks the device's MAC address against a list of approved addresses. If the client's address matches one on the router's list, access is granted as usual; otherwise, it's blocked from joining.

Summary

Wi-Fi in correctional facilities has seen faster adoption than ever before. GUARDIAN RFID, electronic medical record (EMR) systems, and inmate tablets are some of the drivers resulting in a proliferation of jails and prisons that are more connected than ever.

But there are still many without it.

If you’re thinking about GUARDIAN RFID and SPARTAN in the context of real-time data collection, think about what data you’re needing to collect and how critical is it to share that data with other staff members? What inefficiencies might result if you deploy GUARDIAN RFID without Wi-Fi? If you’re concerned about information latency and delaying staff’s ability to share collected data and gain operational awareness from that data, Wi-Fi can be a smart, strategic, and practical way to achieve the real-time automation and insight you’ve always wanted, but could never have gotten from log books or outdated guard tour devices.