Cisco's new IP-based radio interoperability technology (described here) is geared toward helping emergency response workers talk to one another at disaster scenes. But it could also be used by large businesses as part of efforts to improve productivity, according to some early adopters.

IPICS at a cargo terminal
For example, Maher Terminals has been using the Internet Protocol Interoperability and Collaboration System (IPICS) in production applications at its 450-acre cargo terminal in Port Elizabeth, New Jersey, since June. After Cisco announced the technology last month, Steven Rummel, Maher's vice president of IT, said that IPICS is providing connections among about 500 Cisco IP telephones and 700 Sprint Nextel push-to-talk radios, as well as 25 PCs.

The links give Maher's workers new options for communicating with one another, Rummel said. He noted that engineers looking at technical drawings in an office can use IPICS to give instructions to mechanics who are repairing large gantry cranes, instead of having to carry the documents to the site. That helps get cranes back in operation more quickly, reducing downtime costs that he estimated at $30,000 for every 30 minutes one is out of service.

In addition, supervisors can monitor crane and other shipping operations from their offices via remote IP-based cameras. The Cisco technology could also be used as a communications bridge between Maher personnel and US Customs and Border Protection officials, Rummel said.

According to Cisco, IPICS creates a shared communications architecture for land-line telephones, cell phones, proprietary radios and other handheld devices, and PCs equipped with softphones.

IPICS at an airport
Schiphol Telematics, which operates some of the IT networks at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, began testing the IPICS technology in September to evaluate its potential value for emergency response as well as daily operations.

Henry van der Geest, financial director at Schiphol Telematics, said airport officials see numerous needs for business-to-business radio interoperability, especially when planes are being serviced by food services or cleaning contractors. IPICS could support communications between the crews in planes and workers in the airport's terminals or control tower, he said.

There are "dozens" of independent networks at the airport that also could benefit from the interoperability promised by IPICS, according to van der Geest. But, he added, officials are still in the midst of laying the groundwork for deploying the technology. "We have to create the right business model to use it effectively," van der Geest said.

Emergency services in Honolulu
Gordon Bruce, CIO for the city of Honolulu, said a two-week test of IPICS in early October showed that it would be valuable not only in improving communication between the city's police and fire personnel during emergencies, but also for day-to-day operations involving agencies at all levels of government on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.

One unknown is how much it will cost to buy IPICS, which includes server hardware and software components and a push-to-talk client application. Charles Giancarlo, Cisco's chief development officer, said pricing won't be announced until next year.