Cisco uses VOIP to enhance radio interoperability

Cisco Systems is seeking to help first responders communicate across disparate radio networks with a new system based on Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) technology, a senior company official said today.

Cisco's new IP Interoperability and Collaboration Systems (IPICS), introduced this week, overcomes the ongoing inability of police, fire and other emergency response personnel to share information after a disaster, Charles Giancarlo, Cisco's chief development officer, said at a press conference in Washington, D.C.

IPICS connects multiple radio systems, Nextel cellular networks and walkie-talkies to Cisco IPICS servers and software, Giancarlo said. IPICS provides a VOIP connection to a command and control center that can transfer signals and data to and from any device on the network.

IPICS allows the sharing of voice, data, messaging, sensor information and video across existing equipment and IT systems, Giancarlo said. The systems also include software to provide radio compatibility to any computer, he said.

Because IPICS uses legacy equipment, the cost to implement it would be only 10 percent of the estimated $30 billion to $40 billion to replace all legacy radio systems with interoperable ones, Giancarlo said.

Cisco has field-tested IPICS with a number of municipalities that are happy with its performance, Giancarlo said.

Interoperable communications for first responders remains a controversial issue for Congress. The House Homeland Security Committee's Emergency Preparedness, Science and Technology Subcommittee grilled federal emergency communications officials Oct. 26 on their progress to expand radio compatibility since Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast Aug. 29.

Cisco joins a growing field of companies that claim to have overcome the decades-old conundrum of making different legacy, proprietary systems communicate with each other.

At the congressional hearing, Rep. Norman Dicks (D-Wash.) said that CoCo Communications, a Seattle-based company, has created a Cryptographic Overlay Mesh Protocol (COMP) that allows radios, mobile phones, laptop computers and other equipment to communicate with one another.

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