The Rebirth of Push-to-Talk

Instant communications for mobile workforces join forces with modern technology.

Written by:
Igor Glubochansky
Published:
December 1, 2012

In today’s age of smartphones, tablets and lightning-fast 4G LTE wireless networks, you might not hear the push-to-talk (PTT) chirp often while strolling down the street or browsing a store. Consumer PTT has quieted over the last several years, as many people now use texting for short, quick messages.

Contractor using push to talk deviceBut PTT technology is far from obsolete. In business, when workers or supervisors need to get in touch immediately, there’s no substitute for it.

Think about how long it takes to type and send a text message. Then consider how much faster you could speak those same words. Placing a phone call, however, has its limitations. You can call only one person at a time unless you’ve set up a conference bridge. You have to wait while the phone rings, and you have no way of knowing whether the person you’re calling is available.

Because PTT offers instant calling and group conversations, it’s been the de facto communications standard for years in a number of industries, especially construction. The technology employed by these businesses varies. Some use PTT over cellular, and some still have traditional two-way radios. What ties them together is the fact that communicating quickly over PTT networks is deeply ingrained in and essential to their operations.

At the same time, the technology landscape has changed dramatically in the past decade. Business owners who carry smartphones and tablets are starting to see legacy PTT services as clunky and outdated. Because of this perception, wireless carriers and service providers have been investing time and energy into modernizing PTT technology for the 21st-century workforce. The resulting solutions have the potential to propel PTT communications for years to come.

Smarter Ways to Work
In the U.S., smartphones have officially outpaced feature phones as the preferred type of device. A recent Nielsen study revealed that 55 percent of mobile subscribers now carry smartphones, up from 41 percent a year earlier.

Feature phones, lacking access to applications and email, were once the only option for PTT users. As more people have transitioned to smartphones in their work and personal lives, however, the need to support instant communications on more advanced devices has become clear.

Today, wireless service providers offer PTT as an application that businesses can download to various types of smartphones. The next generation of PTT solutions can even work on phones without dedicated PTT buttons. On touch-screen devices, for instance, users can open up the PTT application, and then just tap an icon to begin talking.

The extension of PTT services to a wide range of devices, not just traditional PTT phones, opens new possibilities for the technology. There’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to selecting devices for a business. In any given firm, employees have different needs.

Consider the variety of workers in an average construction company. First, you have tradesmen responsible for physical labor such as framers, plumbers and electricians. This kind of occupation calls for a sturdy phone that can be dropped without breaking and can withstand exposure to dust, dirt, water and extreme temperatures.

A foreman on a jobsite might also want a device that’s resistant to the elements, but his responsibilities likely include recording information, clocking workers’ hours and responding to emails as well. In this case, a rugged smartphone, combining toughness and advanced capabilities, makes the most sense.

Employees that spend the majority of their time away from the jobsite can select a standard smartphone without worrying about durability. Additionally, office-based personnel can access a PTT application from their personal computers to get in touch with on-the-go workers.

Integration of PTT and Apps
Many construction firms have stuck by their PTT networks because they need the speed, efficiency and agility that fast communications enable. Any service that can improve productivity on the jobsite is worth a second look for construction companies. The widespread use of PTT in the industry indicates businesses’ willingness to embrace technology that can help them work smarter, and in recent years, mobile applications have started to catch on.

According to an Aberdeen Group study, 53 percent of organizations currently use mobile apps for field service. Field service applications help employees conduct an array of tasks, including filling out forms, submitting invoices, keeping track of hours worked on virtual time clocks and more.
When you bring mobile apps and PTT together on a smartphone, the potential for efficient work multiplies.

The Evolution of PPT
Despite the benefits of migrating to a more advanced PTT service, some businesses have maintained the “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” attitude. They’ve been relatively satisfied with the decades-old PTT technology, and they see no need for change. But this approach won’t hold up much longer.

The past year has ushered in a number of changes to PTT. One of the major networks, once heralded as the gold standard for PTT, is shutting down in June 2013. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has issued a narrowbanding mandate that requires licensees using channels in the 25KHZ band to deploy technology that achieves 12.5KHZ efficiency by January 1, 2013. As a result, two-way radio users may be forced to replace their existing systems.

Over the next several months, businesses that rely on PTT will need to make decisions. Companies with two-way radios have to choose either to narrowband or to switch to PTT over cellular. Those with legacy PTT networks must upgrade in order to avoid losing service entirely.

For businesses selecting a new PTT solution, here are some considerations to keep in mind:

  • Wireless networks’ speed and coverage impacts the performance of PTT over cellular. It’s important to take a look at how PTT works in the areas where you do business. Not all PTT networks are designed for 4G LTE. Find out whether you have access to fast 4G LTE networks, and ask your service provider for a trial to determine whether the PTT solution meets your needs. 
  • As you evaluate PTT services, take a close look at where each one is going in

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