Sprint's New Push-to-Talk Network to Launch in 4th Quarter

Sprint Direct Connect service, a part of its Network Vision blueprint that shifts its push-to-talk service from iDEN to CDMA, will launch during the fourth quarter.

Sprint has introduced Direct Connect, the planned next-generation of its push-to-talk services, powered by its broadband Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) network. Direct Connect will launch during the fourth quarter, Sprint said in a March 16 announcement, and offer three times the square-mile reach of its current PTT offering.

Direct Connect will launch with an initial portfolio of rugged devices from Motorola and Kyocera, including an ultra-rugged camera flip phone and an Android-running smartphone with a touch-screen and QWERTY keypad. In addition to the capabilities of Sprint's current PTT phones, the new devices will feature next-generation PTT applications, high-speed data access, high-resolution cameras and Bluetooth.

Once the transition to CDMA is complete, Sprint plans to phase out its iDEN network, which it acquired during its 2004 purchase of Nextel.

"We've seen steadily increasing demand for faster data speeds, better and broader coverage, and more applications on push-to-talk devices," Paget Alves, president of Sprint Business, said in a statement. "Sprint Direct Connect is designed to solve for all three, and is expected to come with sub-second push-to-talk call setup time initially in Sprint CDMA RevA coverage areas. Sub-second call setup is expected to expand across the U.S. with the implementation of Network Vision."

Network Vision is the long-term blueprint for overhauling the Sprint network, which the carrier shared in December 2010.

"Network Vision is expected to consolidate multiple network technologies into one seamless network, resulting in enhanced coverage, quality and speed; better network flexibility; reduced operating costs; and improved environmental sustainability," Sprint explained in the statement. "The plan includes a complete upgrade of Sprint's current wireless networks accompanied by changes in device chipsets and network infrastructure."

Specific benefits are expected to include an increase in Sprint's PTT coverage area of nearly 2.7 million square miles, increasing the population serviced from 278 million people to 309 million. In-building coverage is also expected to improve, as are voice and data capacity, as Sprint leverages its 800MHz, 1.9 GHz and 2.5GHz spectrum holdings. (The latter, Sprint added, comes, thanks to its partnership with 4G WiMax provider Clearwire; it's over the 2.5GHz spectrum that Clearwire provides 4G services to Sprint and Clear devices.) Additionally, all of Sprint's PTT devices are expected to be interoperable.

"We believe the new push-to-talk service powered by a broadband network and featuring competitively priced rugged handsets and smartphones will represent an unmatched offering in the market," said Alves.

On any network, applications are still a make-or-break feature, and Sprint plans to involve developers in the creation of new PTT applications through its Sprint Gets Rugged developer program. It'll also engage partners about developing a PTT accessories portfolio, and reach out to customers who require custom PTT solutions to help with their migration to the CDMA network.

In 2012, Sprint said, it plans to expand its device portfolio further with new features and form factors, including devices that support PTT conversations for up to 200 participants and international PTT calls.