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-IP (VOIP) technology, a senior company official said today.

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

IPICS connects multiple radio systems, Sprint Nextel cellular networks and walkie-talkies to 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 networks, he said. The systems also include software to ensure radio compatibility with any computer, he added.

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

Cisco has field-tested IPICS with a number of municipalities that are happy with its performance, he 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 Wednesday on their progress with expanding radio compatibility since Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast Aug. 29.

Cisco joins a growing group of companies that say they have overcome the decades-old conundrum of making existing proprietary systems communicate with one another.

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

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