Industry struggles over GSM push-to-talk standard

New push-to-talk mobile phone systems being developed for packet-based GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) networks could prove to be a disruptive technology in more ways than one.

Equipment manufacturers are split over different interpretations and implementations of the draft push-to-talk over cellular (POC) standard from the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) standardization body. Their differences threaten to fragment the market for a service that both excites and worries GSM operators. While many view the walkie-talkie-like service as a huge opportunity to expand their voice offerings, others fear it could cannibalize their highly lucrative phone business.

Push-to-talk technology can be a relatively inexpensive, simple way to use mobile phones for immediate voice communications. In its simplest form, the technology allows customers to use their mobile phones as walkie-talkies. By pressing and holding down a button, they can talk instantly to one or more participants without having to make a dial-up call.

Moving quickly to capture a slice of what they expect to be a huge market, equipment makers have developed pre-standard POC handsets and network servers ahead of the OMA standard, which is expected by the end of this year.

In the one camp is Nokia Corp. together with Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., which has agreed to license POC technology from the Espoo, Finland, mobile phone and infrastructure manufacturer. In the other is Motorola Inc., Siemens AG, Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB and Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson.

All six companies are OMA members and are participating in the standardization work on POC. The problem, according to Tapio Heikkil

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