With its recent IP Interoperability Communication System launch, Cisco introduced IP integration for two-way radio, push-to-talk cellular and VoIP technologies. The first application is bridging communication systems during emergencies, says Cisco senior vice president and chief development officer Charles Giancarlo. But Cisco has bigger plans for the technology, he told Network World senior editor Phil Hochmuth.

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.