Push-to-talk could push Europeans to chat more

IDG News Service |  Mobile & Wireless

Janni Mpaltatzis, a Greek citizen who has spent most of his life in Germany, can't wait for the new wireless service to come to Europe. Already a heavy mobile phone user, Mpaltatzis views push-to-talk technology -- similar to the walkie talkie-type service pioneered by Nextel Communication Inc. in the U.S. -- as an ideal way for him to communicate with co-workers and customers, as well as family and friends.

"I make a lot of short calls every day, mostly to colleagues and customers but also to my wife, kids and close friends," said Mpaltatzis, who spends nearly 12 hours a day away from home delivering pork chops, hams and other products from his father-in-law's meat processing company in Dortmund, Germany. "It would be great just to push a button to reach them instantly or, if they aren't available, to push the same button to leave a message. And it would be really neat to communicate this way with my relatives in Greece someday."

That someday is just around the corner. Mpaltatzis and millions of other European mobile phone users like him will soon be able to subscribe to new push-to-talk services as wireless operators around the continent move to create additional voice revenue streams.

"Unlike U.S. operators, which have been very aggressive in offering bundled minutes at huge discounts and other services to increase the volume of their voice business, European operators have been less willing to slash prices and, as a result, have seen their voice traffic stagnate; they need to offer new 'rich' voice services, such as push-to-talk, to generate additional revenue," said Phil Kendall, senior analyst at Strategy Analytics Ltd. "I can't imagine many, if any, European operators not interested in the service."

Orange Personal Communications Services Ltd. is poised to become the first mobile phone company in Europe to offer push-to-talk. The U.K. operator, a subsidiary of France's Orange SA, will begin offering service initially to business users in the country next month. Orange will extend the offering to France in the second quarter and eight other markets in the course of the year. The group also plans to target consumers when sufficient handsets are available. Service in the U.K. will start with only one: the Treo 600 from PalmOne Inc.

To get a jump on the rest, Orange has chosen to introduce a push-to-talk service over its voice-centric, circuit-switched GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) network, using technology from Kodiak Networks Inc. in San Ramon, California. Most European operators planning to introduce push-to-talk, however, are considering a packet-switched technology, which is in the final stages of standardization.

"The circuit-switched system gives us an early-mover advantage," Pond said. "It's a good way to get into the market early, show customers the benefits and gain experience."

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