Push-to-talk needs a push

Telstra's Push to Talk (PTT) mobile technology still has a long way to go before it can be adopted by Australian consumers and becomes a threat to SMS messaging, according to IDC senior analyst for mobile and wireless solutions, Warren Chaisatien, after Telstra completed its first trial of Push to Talk (PTT) in Victoria.PTT is a new mobile technology that enables mobile phones to be used like "walkie-talkies" -- users push a button and talk into the handset.

Telstra's Push to Talk (PTT) mobile technology still has a long way to go before it can be adopted by Australian consumers and becomes a threat to SMS messaging, according to IDC senior analyst for mobile and wireless solutions, Warren Chaisatien, after Telstra completed its first trial of Push to Talk (PTT) in Victoria.

PTT is a new mobile technology that enables mobile phones to be used like "walkie-talkies" -- users push a button and talk into the handset.

The Alpine Shire Council in regional Victoria used the service for a month for council operations such as road maintenance. Altogether, the PTT trials included 12 Telstra business and government customers using 60 handsets.

As a result of the trial, Alpine Shire customer coordinator Rory Hazeldine said Push to Talk provided a more efficient and secure way for staff to communicate with each other while they were out in the field.

"Our employees currently communicate using a combination of mobile phones and two-way radios but the latter option is limited because employees need to be in the car to use it. Also, everyone on our two-way frequency can listen to our conversations which makes security and privacy an issue," Hazeldine said.

Telstra business and government mobile solutions managing director Murray Bergin said "The trials encompassed a range of companies in transport and construction, as well as local government organisations who have used Push To Talk to better manage field force communications."

"We are expecting keen interest from customers who need to communicate with groups at a single time such as transport and logistics, construction and building, manufacturing and retail businesses," Bergin said. With PTT, consumers pay for their own talk time depending on the length of time they hold down the button to speak.

While admitting Telstra is "on the right track since PTT is very appealing to a handful of industries especially those involving outdoor teams or groups", IDC's Chaisatien feels there is still some way to go before Push to Talk enters the mainstream.

Chaisatien portrayed PTT as "increasingly being aimed at the consumer market".

"The youth segment (voice chats within social networks) and families, who already use shared cellular minute plans, are key prospects for the service, too," said Chaisatien's IDC report on PTT. "Since PTT is likely to be first adopted by business users before it spreads to consumers, its market development will head to the opposite direction as that of SMS."

Possible inhibitors for the adoption of PTT include its cost, the current popularity of SMS, the availability of handsets that support PTT, and network compatibility issues.

"Existing mobile phone handsets do not support PTT functionality, forcing customers to upgrade their handsets. And early PTT adopters are bound to be using the technology in a 'walled garden', only allowing them to communicate with other PTT users on the same network," the IDC report said.

Chaisatien believes that "The success of PTT in Australia will likely impact the development of the local 3G market as well. Should PTT prove successful as it has with Nextel [a US telco currently having success with PTT], voice revenue will be rejuvenated and existing 2.5G networks extended and carriers will be in less of a hurry to scramble for mobile multimedia revenue from 3G technology."

He added that carriers should pay extra attention to the pricing of PTT in relation to SMS "as this will have a significant impact on PTT adoption and on the potential cannibalisation of SMS, which has been instrumental to the rapid growth of Australia wireless operators' non-voice revenue in recent years."

Chaisatien believes that Telstra should offer a fixed rate for both its mobile phone billing and PTT as is the case with other telecommunication companies around the world offering PTT.

"At the end of the day, PTT should be bundled with voice calls. Pricing will have to vary in local markets but Telstra will have to figure that out because if PTT is not different from cellular pricing then why should people use PTT? Although the technology is more convenient, I expect PTT [would have] to be cheaper to convince people to use it."

The Telstra GSM network is now fully Push To Talk capable and handsets are expected to be available to consumers and businesses from early June, with a CDMA version to be launched later in the year.