Push-to-talk faces European challenge

The walkie-talkie-like service for mobile phones could benefit workers on the go, but networks must pull together to make PTT attractive, says IDC

Push-to-talk (PTT), a walkie-talkie-type service being offered on mobile phone handsets by an increasing number of networks around the world, will have an uphill battle getting the attention of Western European users, according to research firm IDC.

The service last year got its first deployment in the Europe, Middle-East and Africa region through Jordanian telco Fastlink, but push-to-talk won't be rolled out in Western Europe until the second half of this year at the earliest, IDC said in a study published last Friday, Push-to-Talk Services in Western Europe: Are We Ready to Say Over.

PTT phones connect almost instantly. Users push a button for the immediate link-up, rather than dialing a telephone number and waiting for someone to answer the call. Only one person can talk at a time, a cost-saving measure that eliminates the dead air of any phone conversation. The service is gaining popularity in the US, where it has replaced a large portion of the walkie-talkies and pagers formerly used by messengers, delivery employees and other mobile workers, and is offered by about 20 network operators worldwide.

Certain segments of the market could benefit from PTT services, with corporations a likely initial market, the report says. "It could be argued that the target market should be corporate, as initially that particular segment is more reliant on the mobile network for business purposes," said Rosie Secchi, senior research analyst for IDC's European Wireless and Mobile Communications service, in a statement. "However, there is no reason to suggest why in the longer term consumers should not acquire a handset that will be PTT enabled."

Key hurdles will be delivering a user-friendly service that hides the underlying technological complexity, and interoperability between networks, IDC said. "Mobile network operators should allow partnerships to give each other's customers access to all their services," Secchi stated. Currently incompatible PTT standards are offered by Qualcomm, Motorola and Nextel, Togabi and Kodiak Networks.

Kyocera last month began offering its first PTT-enabled handsets, while Motorola has been selling push-to-talk handsets for a decade. Nokia recently introduced its first push-to-talk handset, the 5140, and said all of its phones will feature PTT by 2005. Sources said handset maker Siemens also intends to introduce push-to-talk phones in the next few months.