T-Mobile offers broadband PTT with ESChat technology

Public safety represents a big part of ESChat's business. (Pixabay)

It’s not everyday that you hear about a wireless operator launching a push-to-talk (PTT) solution—the type of service that was made hugely popular through Nextel Communications. But ESChat today announced the launch of its broadband PTT service on the T-Mobile network.

Josh Lober, president and CEO of ESChat, described it as a very “un-carrier” move on the part of T-Mobile. It’s offering ESChat to its business and government customers without interoperability restrictions, meaning ESChat customers purchasing via T-Mobile can communicate with ESChat users on any other wireless network.

“It is a very un-carrier move that they’re making and I think it’s a bit insightful, recognizing that you don’t have to own all the users in order to provide a good service,” he said.

Unlike PTT offerings from other U.S. carriers, T-Mobile's approach allows its PTT service to communicate with compatible PTT users on other carriers without the need for hardware gateways or special software versions. T-Mobile PTT users can communicate from anywhere in the world while using Wi-Fi or roaming.

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T-Mobile already conducted a soft launch, and today’s announcement coincides with ESChat’s general availability on the network. Pricing for T-Mobile’s PTT service is $5 per month and includes group multimedia messaging. The service supports Android and iOS smartphones, a limited selection of “basic” phones and Windows PCs.

ESChat’s technology is carrier-agnostic, and it launched in partnership with Verizon in 2008, when it was called Enterprise Push to Talk. AT&T, Verizon and Sprint use PTT solutions from Kodiak Networks, which was purchased by Motorola Solutions in 2017, but none of them allow users from different carriers to talk to one another even though they’re using the same technology, according to Lober. 

T-Mobile is a new and exciting addition, he said. ESChat is available for purchase at Verizon on an opt-in basis, meaning if a customer asks for it, the carrier will put it on their bill. ESChat also is certified by FirstNet, which uses AT&T’s network.

“T-Mobile’s approach is very different, and in this case, the term ‘uncarrier’ applies very well,” Lober said. A lot of businesses, especially if they’re using a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) model, may be working across multiple carriers. T-Mobile’s offering allows those small or medium businesses to charge all of the PTT services to the T-Mobile bill even if the users are not on T-Mobile.

For example, if a company has 20 employees and 10 of them use company-issued phones and the others use PTT on their own phones, the company can charge all 20 lines to the T-Mobile account so the employees don’t have to bear that cost. A lot of small businesses don’t have the wherewithal to buy a phone for every employee.

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Clearly, the PTT market declined when the iDEN network was decommissioned, but that also was a big opportunity for ESChat to pick up more business.

PTT is different in that it offers managed communications. In a conference call where 100 people are on the line, they’re going to end up talking over one another from time to time. With PTT, the system is managed so that only one user at a time is granted permission to speak and there’s a priority structure in place that allows commanders or supervisors to take over the conversation. It’s secure, and encryption keys are changed on every call.

Lober said one big area where ESChat really shines is in interoperability with radio networks. There’s a large part of the public safety community that realizes the advantage of integrating broadband-like ESChat with their radio network, so their radios can talk to their smartphones and coverage boundaries are removed. “I can be across country at a national event still monitoring my local police department in New Hampshire, and communicating with them,” he said. “You can extend your coverage area with integrating these systems together,” filling in coverage gaps and addressing dead spots. 

San Luis Obispo, California-based ESChat has been involved with FirstNet since the early builder phase and has participated in some big events, including three Super Bowls, to serve public safety, which represents a large part of its market share.