Cisco exec talks telephony

With its recent IP Interoperability Communication System launch, Cisco Systems introduced IP integration for two-way radio, push-to-talk cellular and VoIP technologies. The bridging of first-responder communication systems during critical events is the first application, says Cisco Senior Vice President and Chief Development Officer Charles Giancarlo. But Cisco could have bigger plans with the technology as part of its new Security, Safety Systems business unit, as told to Network World (U.S.) Senior Editor Phil Hochmuth during the event launching the product last month.

By giving push-to-talk capabilities to IP devices such as phones, PCs, PDAs and Wi-Fi phones as well as interoperability with cell phones and radios, are you becoming a direct competitor with vendors such as Nextel and Verizon that offer push-to-talk services? Or possibly radio vendors, such as Motorola?

Not exactly. When you use Nextel in the wide-area environment, such as with cab drivers, that can’t be replaced with 802.11. What the introduction of IP does in any industry is it allows borders to shift. Now [wireless push-to-talk] vendors can use their network for new opportunities, but this raises new defensive points as well [for these vendors]. That will be true for Nextel. Simply by the fact that Nextel is here today [at Cisco’s Oct. 24 launch of IPICS], they see [IPICS] largely as opening up opportunities for them, because it allows them perhaps to penetrate more in the radio space. But you’re right: there may be other places where it might make them somewhat more defensive, such as within a smaller environment where the customer can put up Wi-Fi and basically cover their push-to-talk needs with a private network. Obviously that reduces the need for these wide-area services. But for nationwide push-to-talk or even city-wide push-to-talk, Nextel will still be important. Wi-Fi is fairly limited, and you have to have control of the physical space to make sure you have that ubiquitous coverage.

When entering a new market, Cisco usually acquires some complementary technology. Do you see any areas in IPICS that could be shored up via an acquisition?

Always possible. I can’t say there is anything fundamentally missing now for which we are envisioning an acquisition. But that could change in three months, so I don’t want to mislead you on that either. Obviously, integration into other media types is going to be important as we go forward. Integration [of IPICS] into database systems will be important as well, as we think about tapping into video and sensor systems [for example, environmental monitoring, detection and physical security]. We think that is pretty important. I see us working with the primary radio vendors but not really going into that part of the business. We’re not going to sell radios.

IPICS does not directly compete with radio or push-to-talk vendors, so how are you defining the market it’s in?

We’re still evaluating what we think will be the potential for this market. It’s a little bit difficult to gauge at this early phase. Even though we know what the market is for radios on an ongoing basis and we know what the installed base is, a large amount of the size of this market is going to depend on the speed at which this type of solution is adopted, and that’s hard to gauge at this point.

The name of the new business unit — Security, Safety Systems — implies it will reach beyond just radio interoperability. Where else might this technology go?

We do think that [facility-based] security systems have been largely proprietary so far. When I say proprietary, I mean down to the wires themselves, the signals on the wires have been proprietary. Video has been primarily analog video. We do think that IP and Power over Ethernet can be extended into these environments.

With VoIP technology, Cisco has urged customers to upgrade to switched networks that support PoE, QoS and survivability in the WAN. Do these principles shift over to IPICS, or are there other LAN/WAN infrastructure tweaks necessary to make IPICS work?

We were able to take advantage of a lot of the improvements that were already made in networks relative to VoIP in order to provide IPICS. Including all of the ones you mention, QoS, PoE, all that kind of stuff. Any customer network that’s gone through an upgrade for VoIP would absolutely be able to carry the IPICS type of capability. You also have to upgrade the routers with the ability to do half-duplex radio routing, with the Land Mobile Radio Gateway module for Cisco routers.

Issues that some companies installing IP telephony have experienced involve the political management of VoIP between telecom and data groups. Do you foresee this type of challenge being be even greater when dealing with radio technology among fire and police departments and different municipalities?

It could very well be. But the public-safety issues tend to dominate the discussion [about IPICS] because of people’s familiarity with that. Jurisdiction is somewhat less of an issue in the commercial space, however. And we think the commercial space is more than half the market here. Take an airport for an example. Everyone in a truck, all of the gate agents, all of the security personnel, who are from private companies usually, police and fire, they all carry radios. Workers in the petroleum industry, hospitals, all of those environments can make use of this technology, and there really are no jurisdictional problems there. We are designing our product so that you can have multiple jurisdictions [control the system]. There can be one console that pulls in police and fire. But we can also make it so that if police have [an IPICS system] and fire has one, they could both agree, maybe through an instant messaging connection, radio or phone call, to connect them together and manage it jointly. So we can probably deal with the jurisdiction issues.

Cisco also maintains that its VoIP applications run better on a Cisco network. Does this hold for IPICS? And why?

I think it does, for a variety of reasons. Because we started out with VoIP in 1996, with the first 2600 router, that was doing it for trunking, but for IP telephony, we started incorporating things like QoS and separation of data and control plane. Now both our LAN and WAN equipment are far beyond the competition for supporting the basic capabilities you want for voice, so I do think the Cisco environment…is better. There are two things: one is the Cisco environment and the the second is to make sure that the network design is up to snuff to support this.

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