Services/apps mobile

Can an App Make Campuses Safer?

A new kind of smartphone app connected by Bandwidth.com's backbone network is helping bring greater security to college campuses by making it easier to connect those in potential trouble with immediate assistance and also enable dispatchers to quickly identify specific locations on campus.

This use of Bandwidth.com 's backbone services is the latest example of how the service provider is capitalizing on intelligent call routing to fuel new business plans. Bandwidth continues to refine its uniquely specialized product set for voice services and over-the-top voice offerings, adding a new cloud-based capability that lets its customers route their voice calls more efficiently and save money in the process. The new Bandwidth Route Intelligence Platform lets calls be routed based on a combination of data-dipping to discern actual termination points and least-cost routing capabilities. It is part of Bandwidth's broader portfolio that includes voice and messaging software. (See Bandwidth Launches Cloud-Based Smart Voice Routing.)

Bandwidth.com customer BlueLight used that voice and messaging software to create a smartphone app targeting college campus security and is working based on contracts with colleges and universities to add hundreds of campuses to its system. By working with Bandwidth.com and its underlying infrastructure, BlueLight not only makes sure that any 911 calls from campus go to the campus police or security -- often not the case today -- but also that those calls are delivered to the dispatcher frontloaded with additional information. That info includes the specific location on campus, landmarks and visuals of that location to aid in response and contact information for the caller, including their emergency contacts.

"We run all the infrastructure on our platform in our network so they can focus on their app and the value they bring around the data and the distribution and problem they are solving," says Jason Sommerset, director of product management at Bandwidth.

BlueLight's business model involves contracts with the educational institution, which pays on a per-user basis. As schools come onboard, their campuses are added to the BlueLight system, providing location identification and call routing info, which is based on Bandwidth.com's databases. Students download the app onto their smartphones and use it in case of emergency, but also to alert their own network of contacts to the fact they are traversing the campus and their expected arrival time.

"Today, when a 911 call comes from a college campus, far and away the standard is for it to be routed to the local emergency dispatcher with no location information," says Preet Anand, CEO of BlueLight. In most cases, the closest assistance would come from the campus police department, but they have to be notified independently, and any report of location status has to be collected from the caller and relayed. Obviously that takes time and can be inaccurate.

BlueLight's internal systems are designed to identify the closest possible help and route the call to the specific dispatcher. Using Bandwidth.com's intelligent network platform, BlueLight also delivers additional information about the caller, such as location, that can be accessed by the dispatcher.

"We have frontloaded that location info on the call itself before bridging to the caller," Anand says. "Then the dispatcher has a cheat sheet of all the other information embedded behind the touchtone. If you press 2, for instance, it will give you the [latitude-longitude] location, if you press 3, it will give you contact information for the caller and the emergency contacts listed for that caller and if you press 1, it will repeat back to you my location and add proximity to a landmark or more specific address. All of that is provided with the call, without the caller having to do anything additional."

Students can also use the app in a preventative way, leaving it open as they cross campus late at night, for example, and using it to notify others on their emergency list that they are headed to a specific destination. The app can track their progress and arrival at that destination.

BlueLight, which takes advantage of the GPS ability in smartphones, is available on 85 campuses today, and is adding more all the time, while sitting on a backlog of hundreds of schools where either the administration or students have expressed interested. The per-user fee is an annual subscription and right now, pricing is based on trying to build the biggest possible network of connected campuses, Anand says. "We are working to establish ourselves and this model," he says.

Because Bandwidth.com has a national footprint and connected data centers as well, BlueLight is able to grow quickly in response to that demand, and may at some point move beyond the college campus, he adds, although right now that growth is what the company can handle.

"Our competition right now is with the status quo -- the way campuses have been handling things to this point and their way of thinking," Anand says. Hopefully, most campuses don't face these kinds of emergencies often but there is a growing awareness of on-campus dangers and having a more accurate and efficient way of promptly getting help has its appeal for schools that want to compete and offer assurance of safety for students.

See the latest happenings as telecom business services migrate to the cloud in our cloud services section here on Light Reading.

Bandwidth's new cloud service -- announced separately from the BlueLight app -- essentially takes technology that Bandwidth.com developed for its own call-routing operations and moves it to the cloud so it can be accessed on-demand by the companies Bandwidth serves as a wholesale provider for. The company already offers voice applications programming interfaces (APIs) through a cloud platform to allow OTT providers to easily incorporate voice calling and mobile messaging into their applications, something other companies are using Rich Communications Services (RCS) to do. (See Bandwidth Offers Voice APIs Via Cloud Platform.)

Bandwidth developed the rate management and route intelligence system internally for its own purposes, to make sure calls are being routed in the most efficient means possible, says Nick Sgroi, VP of Carrier Strategy and Voice Termination at Bandwidth. That sounds easy -- least cost routing has been around for decades -- but it's trickier in the era of local number portability. It isn't always possible to know who owns a specific number and therefore to identify the originating and terminating carrier.

Many of Bandwidth's customers didn't have the ability to differentiate what are local and what are long-distance calls to enable the most cost-effective routing. By moving to a cloud-based system that its customers can query on a per-call basis, Bandwidth is enabling them to process a call based on whether it is local or long-distance, intra- or interstate and thus get better rates for each call, Sgroi says.

"As our customers have grown up, with substantial volumes of traffic, they found themselves not only unable to route calls efficiently but even to reconcile bills and know if they are paying what they should be paying or not," he explains. "This service lets them do a data dip on a per-call basis and know each call is being routed in the most cost-effective way."

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

danielcawrey 5/12/2015 | 9:44:08 PM
Re: Campus Security a Huge Issue Interesting. I think location-based technology like this is really valuable. It's funny to think that it was consumer apps that fueled the growth in location-based services, and now we're seeing them in infrastructure apps. 
cnwedit 5/12/2015 | 7:20:12 PM
Re: Campus Security a Huge Issue True, Phil but that's a different type of danger. and it's not limited to college campuses. 
Susan Fourtané 5/12/2015 | 7:04:56 PM
Location This is useful in several ways, not to mention that increasing security in campus is aways welcome. It's great that with this app they can also contact their network of contacts when they are traversing the campus and their location is known for useful purposes, not just for fun. -Susan
Phil_Britt 5/12/2015 | 6:39:30 PM
Re: Campus Security a Huge Issue Unfortunately, many with a smartphone are not safer because they look at the phone rather than traffic when crossing a street (think of downtown campuses).
cnwedit 5/12/2015 | 6:20:20 PM
Re: Campus Security a Huge Issue Phil, I agree. And since very college student has a smartphone, it's a 'smart' way to use existing resources to make everyone safer. 
Phil_Britt 5/12/2015 | 5:37:01 PM
Campus Security a Huge Issue Anything that can be done to improve campus security is essential. While a generation ago, many of us in large cities drove, walked or even took public transportation to many places and were taught at a young age about the need to be safe while "commuting" (including walking), very few pre-college students do much walking or public transportation on their own. So they aren't as safety aware once they hit college. But this app should be seen as an additional safety element rather than as a solution by itself.
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