AT&T launches RTT as replacement for 50-year-old TTY technology

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AT&T's new offering delivers text characters in real time.

AT&T launched a service designed to replace the 50-year-old text telephony (TTY) technology.

TTY was introduced in the 1960s as a way for customers who were deaf, hard of hearing or had speech disabilities to communicate with others either directly or indirectly through a telecom relay service (TRS) provider. Such users can still communicate via TTY or via text messaging, according to AT&T.

But real-time text (RTT), which the carrier announced this morning, is a text-based service “that alleviates many of TTY’s shortcomings,” AT&T said. While TTY requires users to send messages in turn, each RTT text character is transmitted in real time, enabling “a conversational flow of communication” simultaneously with voice.

RTT works on both Android and iOS smartphones with updated operating systems and doesn’t require specialized equipment. The service enables customers to communicate with other RTT users as well as with TTY users including 911 centers and relay services.

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TTY was invented in 1964 and was designed to allow a user to type on a keyboard and have those tones broadcast on a phone line to a user on the other end, thus supporting non-voice conversations. Instead of the old-fashioned TTY, AT&T said two years ago that the FCC should recognize RTT as an alternative accessibility solution for the deaf and hard of hearing.

RTT calls will be billed as voice calls, AT&T said.

“This launch on AT&T’s network is the first step in making RTT as widely available as possible,” wrote Linda Vandeloop, the carrier’s assistant vice president of federal regulatory, on the company’s blog. “Initially, AT&T RTT users will be able to communicate with other users on AT&T’s network. By the end of the year, more carriers will deploy the service, enabling communication between networks. And, by 2021, most if not all carriers will be offering RTT. So, half a century after TTY was first introduced, AT&T is excited to be leading the charge and offering this new service making communications even more accessible for people who are deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind, or have a speech disability.”