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Leveraging Cisco IPICS and Cisco ISSI for interoperable communications

The combined solution takes radio transmissions — whether they’re digital or analog signals — from the radio tower and feeds those signals into a router that then converts the voice radio traffic into IP

At the APCO 2011 Conference and Expo in Philadelphia earlier this month, I was given a demonstration of a suite of interoperable communications solutions from Cisco that, quite frankly, just about knocked my socks off. That is not breathless hyperbole — this system demonstration far exceeded my expectations.

Upon arrival for my meeting, I was given a quick introduction to the Cisco IPICS Dispatch Module, a totally-digital radio dispatch console that runs over IP (Internet Protocol), giving incident commanders comprehensive communications interoperability between different agencies, networks, and device types. The folks from Cisco call it a network of networks. I was then introduced to the Cisco ISSI Gateway, an open-standard TIA-102 P25 interface enabling secure communications across P25 radio sub-systems, traditional LMR radio frequency bands, as well as cellular carrier networks and.

In effect, this combined Cisco solution takes radio transmissions — whether they’re digital or analog signals — from the radio tower and feeds those signals into a router that then converts the voice radio traffic into IP. It can also conduct this “translation” to IP from cellular telephone towers, as well as traditional POTS (plain old telephone service) “land line” telephones. Once you have any one (or all) of those signals translated into IP, you can then send that digital bundle of information anywhere in the network, have it translated back out into whatever type of signal is required — again, anything from P25 to LMR to 3G/4G mobile and POTS phones — and fed out to that particular device.

Myriad Disparate Signals & Systems
So, regardless of the piece of equipment in the hands of the various first responders at an incident scene, if everyone is connected in some way to the Cisco IPICS / Cisco ISSI system, they can all talk with one another.

By way of example, this “network of networks” solution can connect one agency’s P25 800-MHz network to another agency’s P25 700-MHz network, while also bringing in an entirely different agency’s analog VHF network, with a supporting governmental organization’s analog UHF network.

In fact, you don’t even need to be at the incident scene itself — you can be hundreds or even thousands of miles away — in order to connect to the system and participate in talk groups. Let’s say that a key player — anyone from your Chief of Police to your Special Operations Commander — is 3,000 miles from home attending a conference (like APCO), when the poop really hits the paddles. Because the system runs over IP, all that individual needs to do is dial the dispatch center on their mobile phone, have their call authenticated into the system, and be immediately connected with all their personnel.

What’s more, because you never want to have an open microphone on these channels, Cisco has defined parameters for telephone devices (from POTS to 3G/4G mobile phones) to have push-to-talk capabilities. As soon as the call is connected, your default setting is “listen” but all you need to do to add your $0.02 to the discussion is press the numeral “1” on your phone and you’re in “talk” mode. Simply push “2” and your microphone is closed — presto! you’re back in “listen” mode.

Real-World Deployment
Dan O'Malley, Senior Product Manager for Cisco’s Physical Security Business Unit, offered an example of how this has been used already in a real-world scenario.

“In the Western Australia fire districts they often have brush fires,” said O’Malley, “but sometimes they don’t have radio communications when they’re fighting those fires. They can dial into the system from a plain old telephone line, authenticate, and start talking on the radio. Just in case the towers go out or you lose communications for some other reason, this is an any-to-any solution that let’s you use a regular phone line to connect if you need to.”

Beverly Slocum, product manager with the Cisco Physical Security Business Unit added, “We also have the ability to create a virtual talk group. So, say there’s a lost child, and you have all these volunteers searching for this child. They all have mobile phones. You can create a virtual channel that won’t tie in your radio channel where all those volunteers have the ability to do a push-to-talk session with all the other volunteers.”

Slocum explained further that in this way, although you don’t tie up your radio resources, you do have the ability for one or two public safety professionals who are coordinating the activities of those emergent volunteers to also use their own radios to monitor that radio traffic, and give commands and direct their efforts as needed. Although Slocum didn’t specifically mention this during my visit with Cisco at APCO, it seems to me that given this capability to create talk groups with specifically-authenticated users, you could probably also set up ad-hoc, one-to-one private calls in the system just as easily. That’s just my educated guess, but it seems logical, practical, and potentially very useful in the event that highly-sensitive information would need to be quickly communicated between, let’s say, two unit commanders in an ongoing counterterrorist operation...

Only One Problem Remains
Suffice it to say that by combining the Cisco ISSI and Cisco IPICS systems, public safety agencies can develop a simple, cost-effective and comprehensive communications interoperability solution capable of fixing a wide variety of problems facing public safety. While we consult with our experts from PoliceGrantsHelp on the remaining problem of paying for this stuff — and we do plan to get them to offer some ideas down the road — check out the video below video from IWCE 2011, in which Cisco’s Beverly Slocum explains and demonstrates the IPICS system.


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