AT&T goes after Sprint iDEN customers with Enhanced PTT service

AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) is taking aim squarely at Sprint Nextel's (NYSE:S) remaining iDEN subscribers by announcing the full availability of its Enhanced Push-to-Talk offering as well as new smartphones for the service.

AT&T has been building toward the nationwide launch of its Enhanced PTT service for months, and its executives have said they aim to steal away Sprint's iDEN subscribers. Sprint plans to turn off its Nextel iDEN network, part of its Network Vision network modernization plan, by the middle of 2013.

AT&T is doing all it can to attract PTT customers to its offering, which can run on its LTE network. AT&T said its Enhanced PTT service will cost $5 per month when added to existing AT&T voice and data plans or $30 per month for a PTT-only rate plan (no voice or non-PTT data included). Both plans include unlimited PTT, and data used by the Enhanced PTT application will not count against a customer's monthly data totals.

AT&T's Enhanced PTT offering is based on technology from Kodiak Networks. AT&T said the service boasts sub-second call setup; larger contact lists and talk groups than rival PTT solutions; the ability to combine PTT services and mobile applications; supervisory override; and talk group scanning. AT&T is clearly hoping customers will be drawn to those features and the opportunity to be on AT&T's LTE network (which the carrier expects to cover 150 million POPs by year-end).

"We are going to have the capability now to add customers on push-to-talk technology that we didn't have in any prior quarter," AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega told the Wall Street Journal last week.

AT&T's PTT service will be preinstalled on a handful of phones, including the Samsung Galaxy Rugby Pro, the Samsung Rugby III, the BlackBerry Bold 9900 and the BlackBerry Curve 9360. Customers can download AT&T's PTT app to the Samsung Galaxy S III or Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket.

But Sprint isn't sitting idly by, and is actively working to recapture iDEN customers onto its CDMA network. To hold onto its own iDEN customers, Sprint offers its CDMA Direct Connect PTT service, powered by a new solution from Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM), which the carrier has said offers similar PTT speeds as its iDEN network with greater coverage. In the third quarter Sprint was able to recapture 59 percent of leaving postpaid Nextel customers and move them to its CDMA network, just below the recapture rate of 60 percent in the second quarter. As time passes though, Sprint expects that rate to decline.

Sprint said in September that it counted 1 million subscribers to its CDMA PTT service. Sprint counts around 3 million customers on its iDEN network. The carrier plans to harvest its iDEN spectrum for CDMA and LTE services.

"These customer losses have been expected. It's by design," Hesse recently told CNET. "Because of the value of this spectrum we have to move people off it, and re-purpose that spectrum, so it can be used for Network Vision."

For more:
- see this release
- see this AllThingsD article
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)

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