Sprints announcement Oct. 16 that it had started work on using its EV-DO Rev. A network as the basis for a new, enhanced, push-to-talk network is just the latest move in what has become an industrywide effort to make person-to-person communications more immediate.
Currently, Sprint offers two kinds of push-to-talk communications, one through its Nextel division that uses the iDEN network, and one on Sprint itself that uses CDMA, but only in a limited fashion.
To improve the Sprint side of the equation, the company is signing agreements with Qualcomm and with Lucent Technologies to extend its existing push-to-talk service with Nextel to Sprint phones.
To accomplish this, Sprint has licensed Qualcomms QChat technology. The new phones and the service will be available in 2008.
“What the QChat technology is going to enable us to have is push-to-talk over the CDMA network instead of iDEN at Nextel,” said Sprint spokesperson Scott Sloat.
“What that means is that now if Im a Sprint customer on a Sprint network, what I can do in 2008 is be able to walkie-talkie people on the CDMA network and on the iDEN network,” he said.
He said that the new service will give both Sprint and Nextel customers the ability to interoperate when using push-to-talk.
“Theres no downside. Anyone who wants it has another option available to use. Now you need to get the iDEN service. With this you wont be confined to the Nextel service,” Sloat said.
Sloat said that the new push-to-talk feature wont be available until 2008 because it will take Sprint that long to build out its new EV-DO Rev. A network.
“We cant do it until our Rev A technology is available across the network,” he said.
Sprints current push-to-talk service, Readylink, uses the standard CDMA network.
Sloat said that as a result, it suffered from serious latency problems. Sloat also said that he didnt know whether Nextels popular Direct Talk feature, which allows direct communications between handsets, would also be available with the Sprint service.
However, Sprint and Nextel are not the only game in town when it comes to push-to-talk. Both Verizon Wireless and Cingular have started offering the service as well.
In the case of Verizon Wireless, the company looks on push-to-talk as necessary to offer its customers a complete suite of services.
“You want seamless connectivity,” said spokesperson Brenda Raney. “This is about wireless connectivity. Push-to-talk is one feature of a portfolio,” she said.
Raney said that Verizon already has three push-to-talk handsets on the market aimed at a variety of customers.
“We see it in multiple verticals such as construction, the government sector, any loud environment,” said David Brown, Verizons manager of product development for push to talk.
“They use it for locating other workers, finding someone available,” he said. “Theres been some interest responder units and security.”
“The key here is productivity,” Raney said, “and it should be viewed as a productivity tool.”
Raney cautioned that companies shouldnt just give a push-to-talk handset to everyone.
“What you dont want to do is put it into the hands of people who dont need it,” she said. “Other people could be listening. You need to sit down and analyze your business and wireless strategy, and put the right tools in their hands to accomplish your wireless goal.”
Of the three wireless providers that offer push to talk, Cingular could be seen as working hardest to find new ways to use the service.
For example, one large customer (Cingular declines to give names), is using push-to-talk to facilitate a mentoring program.
“Theres a company thats using it with their employees independent of the formal organization structure,” said Cingulars vice president of Mobility Marketing, Joe Lueckenhoff.
According to Lueckenhoff, the company puts new employees into a push-to-talk group with their mentors, and whenever they have a question ranging from problems with the HR department to finding new ways of doing things, they can talk to their group.
“The mentor facilitates that conversation. They can all talk among themselves and share anecdotes,” Lueckenhoff said.
Lueckenhoff said that one feature of the Cingular GSM based push-to-talk network is that it allows users to take advantage of the idea of presence. They can tell at a glance whether a member of their group is available to talk.
He said that in the case of the mentoring program, group members can see if their mentor is available, and if the mentor isnt, they can contact another one.
One advantage to using the Cingular GSM network is that its more widely available than any of the other push-to-talk networks.
Lueckenhoff said that Cingular is already working on the ability to use it globally because GSM is a global standard.
“We have more coverage than anyone in the United States including Sprint Nextel,” he said.
Cingular has a number of features that the company is using to draw the attention of customers in addition to the ability to see if someone is available before you contact them.
Lueckenhoff said that users can set up their own groups on the fly, they can convert a push-to-talk call into a cell phone call, and they can create conference calls whenever they want to.
He said that unlike other push-to-talk offerings, Cingulars offers voice mail for when the user isnt available.
Business users for Cingulars push-to-talk capability are much like those for the other services.
They include small businesses in which all or most employees will have the capability, and large companies, where its more dependent on the actual job function.
“In a large company, its usually divisions, such as the IT group, fleet management, or servicing organizations,” Lueckenhoff said.
“The government is big. Were selling a lot of this into law enforcement, even on the federal level,” he added.
Lueckenhoff said that Cingular expects to have over a million push-to-talk users by 2007. Verizon Wireless declined to discuss how many users the company had.