European Push-to-Talk Put On Hold
By Carlo Longino, Thu Oct 07 20:45:00 GMT 2004

Operators' interest in PTT services looks to have wained significantly since the technology emerged as the flavor of the month earlier in the year.

Although reports earlier in the week indicated T-Mobile would launch push-to-talk services in Germany by the end of the year, other European carriers have cooled on the technology. Orange launched its service recently, several months behind its second-quarter target, and other operators that were hyping PTT are now taking a wait-and-see attitude.

Carriers around the world have been keen to emulate US carrier Nextel, which generates roughly a fifth of its revenues from PTT, but it would appear the success might be limited to North America, if not just Nextel -- CDMA operators Sprint and Verizon both have PTT services of their own, but haven't generated much noise since the initial fanfare around the launches. Of course Nextel has had a significant head start, and has shaped its business completely around push-to-talk, but it's hard to see other carriers getting the same kind of results from it.

The reasons for European's lack of interest in the services may be more cultural than anything else, and down to push-to-talk's striking similarities and differences to SMS. Like SMS, a PTT message lets somebody fire off a quick, short, one-way message -- so it's very likely Europeans are already using SMS in similar situations to when Nextel users use push-to-talk, so there's not much incentive to change their deeply ingrained behavior (the use of SMS) when it also requires new equipment and new charges. And unlike SMS, a PTT message is pretty intrusive, particularly the loud "squawk" that announces its arrival, and it also has the added detraction of broadcasting the message to anyone in the receiver's immediate proximity.

A T-Mobile executive touched on some of these cultural differences back in March, saying walkie-talkie use is higher in the US than in Europe and that he didn't see a lot of future in PTT as a consumer technology. But the attraction for European small- and medium-sized businesses (the market segment upon which Nextel's success is built) isn't clear either, and there's a good chance that these customers have more pressing needs the operators could meet.