Push To Talk (PTT): Is it Still a Viable Market?

K. Weldon
K. Weldon

Summary Bullets:

  • Back in the days before, and for awhile after the Nextel acquisition by Sprint, the U.S. carriers were very excited about PTT as a market opportunity in the SMB and enterprise segments9
  • With AT&T planning a new PTT service rollout, we wonder aloud if the take-up is likely to be significant, and who the users will be

Back in the days before (and for awhile, after) the Nextel acquisition by Sprint, PTT was a hot trend, associated with Nextel’s ruggedized devices, the familiar sound of the “chirp”, and Nextel Direct’s 0.92 second call setup and 0.58 second mouth to ear latency. PTT was in use by SMBs and public safety organizations with near-instant field force communications requirements. It also became a fad among teenagers and “twenty-somethings” as a form of social networking, long before Facebook, but alongside SMS and MMS. Sprint managed to keep some of the original iDEN PTT customers, but mostly on the business side, as the hip factor in the youth market faded in favor of other, more modern ways to keep in touch with friends and communities of interest. Both AT&T and Verizon Wireless also launched PTT services early on, but the original iDEN service was always considered the gold standard. When Sprint first attempted to lure its own PTT base to a CDMA version, it couldn’t keep up with the quality of the original.  Sprint’s Network Vision plans include a better 3G EVDO Rev A version of PTT (along with a lot of other benefits for the existing base, who should be moving from the slow as molasses iDEN network to a faster and more feature-rich technology anyway). However, so much of Sprint’s base has already defected that the fact that Sprint will be sunsetting iDEN altogether in 2013 does not ensure loyalty via an upgrade to Sprint’s latest QChat version.

It is time now for Sprint and its two main rivals to try and corral the existing PTT base and also lure the public safety and government workers that are still on legacy Private Mobile Radio systems. AT&T hopes to do this with an upgraded service based again on Kodiak technology, but with new personalization features, expanded group management functions, logging features, and multimedia integration.

At this point in time there are an estimated 7 million PTT customers on iDEN as well as approximately 15 million users still on narrowband LMR networks. The carriers want to reach this audience but are also hoping that the new features will be attractive to new users.  AT&T is also making its new solution work across Android, BlackBerry, ruggedized Windows Mobile and eventually, one hopes, iOS devices. It can also run over WiFi when inside a building. Maybe it’s time to really bring back wide area PTT in a big way. I haven’t heard the chirp in a long time!

What do you think?

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