Verizon announced it’s now offering a push-to-talk (PTT) service based on 3GPP standards, reflecting a new generation that includes support for Mission Critical PTT, or MCPTT in public safety/standards parlance.
Rival AT&T, which provides the network for FirstNet, introduced a limited MCPTT solution earlier this year, but Verizon says it’s not reacting to what AT&T is doing.
“It’s not a response to FirstNet,” said Nick Nilan, director of Public Sector Product Development at Verizon. Rather, it’s offering something public safety customers have been asking for, and it’s in response to what 3GPP is enabling, rooted in Release 14.
Verizon is trying to hang onto its market share dominance in the public safety market, and even though FirstNet was touted as the nation’s first nationwide network dedicated to public safety, there’s nothing that says public safety agencies are mandated to use FirstNet. Since the contract was awarded to AT&T, Verizon has been courting the public safety community as hard as ever. As part of its contract, AT&T received access to FirstNet’s 20 MHz of 700 MHz spectrum.
PTT services have evolved a lot over the years, including PTT to PTT+ and PTT Group – “a lot of different variations on push to talk,” Nilan said, but it was always a hosted application in the cloud that had some components of Verizon’s network; it was an application on a phone and it used the LTE data connection. The thing that’s different about PTT Responder is it’s built on the 3GPP standards.
Now, it’s actually built into Verizon’s network and it’s hosting the platform in the Verizon wireless network, with quality of service and priority services built into the platform, so “we’re actually giving extra priority to the communications that go over the PTT Responder,” above and beyond anything else on the phone, with the exception of 911 or Wireless Priority Service (WPS) calls. “We’re really excited about the quality on this connection,” and the robustness of the capabilities, he said.
He added that this doesn’t include mission critical video; that will be coming in a future release. It’s also limited to certain Android phones; support for iOS is in the works. The Samsung S7 and S10 are supported now, as well as two rugged phones: the Kyocera DuraForce Pro and Sonim XP8. The handset line-up will continue to expand over time, he noted.
The differentiator for Verizon remains the LTE network. “The biggest thing for us is the continued reliability of the network and making the services that are available ... just as reliable as the network is for our customers. That’s why we still have the majority of first responders on our network. Now we can extend that additional reliability and quality of service to the Push to Talk platform and brand,” Nilan said.
Verizon’s legacy PTT platform is built with its partner Kodiak Networks, which is owned by Motorola, and that partnership continues. A lot of industries, including construction and utilities, continue to use that.
The PTT Responder is targeting public safety; it’s interoperable and Verizon said users can communicate with each other and across agencies with interoperability through text and data.
Land Mobile Radio (LMR) remains a critical tool for first responders and Verizon isn’t trying to replace their LMR systems but to enhance the capabilities, according to Nilan. In building its solution, one of the things Verizon considered was those users who may be more familiar with an LMR interface on their radios and how that translates to a smartphone.
It offers two configurations and users can switch between the two. One is they can toggle between different user groups and it looks and feels like an LMR radio. Or it can operate in a mode that resembles what’s on a modern smartphone. That gives people a simplified experience to get into the application and use it the way they’re used to doing so at a moment’s notice, according to Nilan.