Revenge of the Chirp. It’s PTT v OTT.

Verizon Updates Push-to-Talk to Plus. Enough?

Verizon_lBefore tweeting, there was chirping.

Push-to-talk (PTT) over cellular: for many Americans, it was their introduction to modern-age social networking. From schoolyards to construction yards, this walkie-talkie-like service was a hit with enterprises as well as with teens and families. Press, chirp, and talk — the sight and sound of PTT subscribers was everywhere in the US and some South American countries. However, texting and over-the-top services have now usurped the chirp for many PTT subscribers.

PTT services tended to be unique to markets where text messaging was slow to catch on, driving ARPU and subscriber stickiness for companies like Nextel in the US (then independently owned). It was a fantastically useful service for field workers that found a following with consumers, and Sprint, Verizon, Cingular (now AT&T) and a handful of European operators launched their own versions. The market for push-to-talk services historically suffered from incompatibility, standardisation and device support problems, but the recent availability of over-the-top services has been one of the largest threats to PTT.

Last week, Verizon unveiled Push to Talk Plus, an updated version of their PTT service. The facility requires users to download an app that’s currently compatible on only a few Android smartphones. These include the Samsung Galaxy S5, Motorola’s Droid Maxx and Casio’s G’zOne Commando, and Verizon says that the rugged Kyocera Brigadier will soon be supported. The service costs $5 per month on top of additional contracts, but Verizon is offering the first six months for free. The refreshed service is aimed at enterprises and government workers, and a way to push back against competing apps and services.

Many of the new features of Push to Talk Plus should appeal to enterprises, though the support of such a limited number of mobile devices is somewhat surprising. Verizon points to improved voice quality, faster connection times, centralized management and advanced conference call capabilities such as priority for the meeting host. It also works over Wi-Fi as well as LTE and 3G — PTT is turning into a modern, cloud-based service thanks to products from network companies such as Kodiak and Ericsson.

PTT continues to be a valuable enterprise solution for many companies with field workers, but these days there are few safety zones for walled-garden services. Verizon and its supplier partners have managed to maintain push-to-talk’s relevance with these latest features, making it an attractive service for operators and customers. However, it will be interesting to see how encroachment from IT-centric cloud-service providers and enterprise app stores affect this market. They’re getting pushy, too.