CoCo Communications officials said yesterday that version 4.0 of the company’s software-driven networking protocol and application suite—a scalable, IP-based solution—is capable of providing nationwide interoperable communications for first responders for a fraction of the cost of hardware-based solutions.

“CoCo has been … envisioning this day for five years,” said Riley Eller, CoCo Communications’ director of technology, in an interview with MRT. “This is really the culmination of all our dreams and efforts.”

In contracts with the city of Dallas and federal agencies—most notably, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Secret Service—CoCo has enabled interoperable communications between disparate systems through a mesh-networking protocol that could scale to thousands of digital gateways, Eller said. With the 4.0 release, CoCo has improved the scalability of its meshing protocol and designed a system that only resorts to ad-hoc mesh networking when an agency’s IP network fails, he said.

“There’s no reason, when that [IP network] infrastructure’s functional, not to leverage it,” Eller said. “With this new release … when IP is available, we rely on IP routing for everything. So, in that sense, we’re even more standards-based and standards-compliant than we have been in the past.

“When the infrastructure fails, then we create an IP network out of the shambles of whatever’s remaining—all of the remaining pieces [in a CoCo network] have this ad-hoc communications capacity. And we have built all of the pieces required to allow that [ad-hoc network] to be scalable.”

By relying on IP networking as the primary routing protocol, CoCo customers can leverage open IP standards for pricing and take advantage of technological evolutions that address many key issues, such as routing protocols utilizing satellite networks, Eller said. This design change also is beginning to foster embedded distribution agreements with manufacturers of routers, switches, hub and handsets, said Pete Erickson, CoCo Communications’ vice president of business development.

Meanwhile if the IP network fails or is unavailable—something that has occurred during large-scale incidents like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina—the system automatically will switch to CoCo’s new meshing protocol, which now will support millions of gateways, Eller said.

“We’re finally ready to deliver to the market a mesh network that can scale to hundreds of thousands or millions of nodes that can hold itself together and can present a coherent IP interface over that network—that’s completely unique in the world and a patent-pending technology of CoCo,” he said. “We could realistically scale this to the entire first-responder and critical-infrastructure-reliant market for the United States with no problem.”

And the CoCo system enables interoperability without requiring agencies to replace their current gear, an expensive proposition that is the foundation of many hardware-based interoperability proposals. CoCo officials have said the company could deploy an interoperability solution like the one in Dallas that serves metropolitan areas with 85% of the U.S. population for $350 million—a fraction of the billions of dollars that many experts believe would be needed to pay for hardware-based interoperability systems.

In addition, because it is software-based, upgrades can be implemented quickly.

“We’ll push a button, and our update server will upgrade that entire network,” Eller said.

All existing CoCo networks will be migrated to the 4.0 version of the company’s technology by June, Erickson said.