Cisco expands security offerings with push-to-talk mobile capabilities

Looking to fill the void left by the shuttering of the Nextel network at the end of June, Cisco recently announced the launch of its Instant Connect solution, which extends push-to-talk capabilities to mobile devices. It enables people in a variety of applications – be it manufacturing facilities, government agencies, corporate enterprises, or healthcare and education campuses – to communicate quickly and effectively regardless of the type of mobile device that they carry.

“What Cisco Instant Connect does is allow for collaboration outside the office environment,” Neeraj Purandare, director of product management for Cisco’s Internet of Things group, said in a recent video conference.  “Cisco Instant Connect will allow these heterogeneous devices to participate in a single talk group so that people can talk to each other seamlessly. An employee with a smartphone could press a button and talk to someone in the field with a radio.”

In addition to voice communications, the Instant Connect application also enables rich media collaboration between users such as the sharing of video. “Moreover, you can now replace an expensive radio device with a BYOD or smartphone device which is a lot cheaper,” Purandare added.    

According to Dan O’Malley, senior product manager at Cisco, the three traditional methods people have used to achieve push-to-talk communications within their organizations include the now shuttered Nextel network, two-way radios and other cloud offerings, each of which come with their own set of unique challenges. However, O’Malley said Instant Connect resides on a corporate network and can be expanded as an organization increases its Wi-Fi coverage.

With the launch of Instant Connect, O’Malley said that the company is introducing three offerings: A Cisco Unified Wireless IP phone with a push-to-talk button and an Android Mobile Client; an IP Command touchscreen dispatch console, which can be used by personnel in a security command center, for example, to communicate with up to 30 groups at one time; and, push-to-talk virtualized servers.

The benefits of Instant Connect, according to O’Malley, are three-fold: Lower costs, greater control and flexibility, and faster performance.

“If you think about a monthly charge - $30 a month, buying devices – we don’t have monthly fees. You buy our devices or you bring your own device and once you’ve bought the infrastructure, it’s free after that,” O’Malley explained. “Wi-Fi coverage has surpassed land mobile coverage. It may surpass carrier coverage in buildings because the IT guy can add an extra access point if you’re out of coverage. It is very easy to expand (Wi-Fi) coverage within building facilities. Just from a return-on-investment standpoint, if you have a small, medium or big system, you can see payback as quick as six months from the Cisco Instant Connect solution.”

O’Malley said that video surveillance cameras can also be tied into the Instant Connect solution. “Let’s say you want to have a camera above a production line, rather than walking all the way out to the production line you can bring up that camera and see if there are any issues,” said O’Malley.  “So now you can tie this rich media collaboration into your talk group.”

Paul Mauvais, a systems and technology manager for Cisco who oversees the networks for the company’s five security operations centers around the globe, said that Instant Connect will enable the company’s security team, as well as members of its emergency response team to communicate with each other without the need to purchase numerous radios.

“Our security guards will traditionally carry a handheld radio, but I can’t afford to spend the money out of my budget just for the return on it to have 200 or 300 radios here in San Jose alone for the emergency response team members that we have,” Mauvais said. “In my mind, everybody always has their phone with them. So if you’ve got a handheld radio, a phone and a laptop and everything else, are you always carrying that stuff with you? To extend that out and not just have the phone and the texting available and the web, but to be able to have push-to-talk capability means I am more easily available and able to reach out to and get the information to handle an incident or a security event faster.”   

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