In a move to woo more business customers to its wireless service, AT&T is rolling out an Enhanced Push-to-Talk service through a new app for the iPhone 5 and iPhone 4S. It's the first time a U.S. carrier is offering push-to-talk on the iconic device.
Beyond the iPhone capabilities, AT&T said its enhanced push-to-talk service can now be used over Wi-Fi. That, the wireless carrier said, means improved in-building coverage and access to the service via compatible Wi-Fi networks for AT&T customers. The company has more than 32,000 AT&T Wi-Fi Hot Spots.
"Across industries such as manufacturing, engineering, hospitality, construction and government, organizations need instant communications in challenging environments," said Mike Troiano, vice president of Advanced Mobility Solutions, AT&T Business Solutions. Troiano said the company's service makes it possible to "communicate faster and to larger talk groups."
The Mobile Worker Equation
AT&T lists four key features of Enhanced Push-to-Talk for iPhone. Troiano already mentioned one of them: larger contact lists and talk groups. By incorporating the iPhone into its push-to-talk mix, AT&T is broadening its audience. That should help turn the heads of business customers that prefer Apple, as well as others who frequently communicate with Apple users.
The new service also offers the ability to combine push-to-talk services and and supervisory override that allows supervisors to communicate important time-sensitive messages to their team. AT&T says call setup takes less than one second.
"The performance of AT&T's EPTT service was comparable to traditional mobile voice services," IDC analyst John Weber recently wrote in a report. "With many mobile workers working within the four walls of the enterprise, building in Wi-Fi functionality is an important element to consider."
The Bigger Story
We turned to Roger Entner, a wireless industry analyst at Recon Analytics, to get his take on the new enhanced services. He told us push-to-talk was so popular in the past because it represented free calling. Now, with unlimited calling on virtually every plan, it's not as important.
"It's always useful, especially for groups in the trades. But usually they are looking for a rugged device and the iPhone is not really that rugged. So it's nice to have. It's rounding out the offer. I doubt it will make market share shift," Entner said.
Where Entner does expect a greater shift is in AT&T's decision to change its handset renewal period from 20 months to 24 months, following the same move Verizon recently initiated. He said this move will have a greater impact on AT&T's margins than push-to-talk.
"I would not expect the handset replacement cycle to lengthen significantly, which is right now at 21.7 months. It has been the same for the last three years. On average, Americans change in less than two years," he said. "People are changing handsets at three points in the handset's life: after a year, when there is a new model coming out for the new phone; after two years, when they are eligible for the subsidized pricing; and then, whenever it breaks. That could be up to six or seven years."