AT&T expands trials of enhanced push-to-talk service

AT&T hopes to attract former Sprint iDEN customers with new service
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AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) said it is doubling the number of business push-to-talk users in its trials for its Enhanced PTT service, which it expects to make commercially available later this year.

AT&T has been testing the service since February and said that the feedback has been positive. The Enhanced PTT service, aimed primarily at enterprise customers, will be available on up to five compatible smartphones, including ones from Samsung, later this year. 

The new AT&T service relies on a technology from Kodiak Networks, a PTT pioneer. The technology, dubbed InstaPoC, is an IP-based technology that allows carriers to deliver voice over LTE and over 3G and Wi-Fi. Additionally, InstaPoC supports simultaneous voice and data activity without changes to the radio access network, according to Kodiak. The platform's capabilities include one-to-one and one-to-many (for up to 250 contacts) PTT-based communication, centralized dispatch, enterprise-class administration, as well as availability and call alerts.

CourierNet, an Atlanta-based courier company, has been trialing AT&T Enhanced PTT with its team of more than 500 drivers and 75 dispatchers. AT&T clearly hopes to attract customers migrating off of Sprint Nextel's (NYSE:S) iDEN network, which it is decommissioning. Sprint is encouraging its iDEN customers to move to its new CDMA PTT solution.

Indeed, Sprint said last week that its new CDMA Direct Connect service has three times more coverage than its Nextel iDEN network because it added roaming support for its 1xRTT network. The CDMA Direct Connect service, powered by a new solution from Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM), was previously only available on Sprint's EV-DO network.

Sprint said its customers will experience the same instant connectivity when a push-to-talk call has been established, but the initial call setup time will increase slightly if a user is in a 1xRTT area or roaming. Some customers with existing Sprint Direct Connect devices will need to receive a software update to enable the new coverage capabilities.

Sprint last month said it will decommission 9,600 iDEN sites by the end of the third quarter, and will turn off its iDEN network as soon as June 30, 2013. The company has said many of these are sites are no longer needed because they were added when Sprint had roughly 20 million total iDEN Nextel customers; Sprint now has fewer than 6 million iDEN customers. The shutdown of the iDEN network, which Sprint has been discussing since late 2010, is part of its Network Vision upgrade, which centers on the deployment of new, multi-mode base stations, an enhancement of 3G coverage as well as the deployment of LTE.

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