When Push Comes to Talk

Private radio, watch out. Commercial carriers are fast descending on our
tightly held market. Realizing that Nextel's success with a push-to-talk
feature wasn't a short-lived fluke, Verizon Wireless has rushed to offer a
similar service, with Sprint PCS and AT&T Wireless reportedly not far

The traditional two-way industry doesn't stand a chance, does it? The large
commercial carriers have figured out our game and even done us one better.
Not only can a commercial subscriber PTT another subscriber nearby, but per
chance they need to immediately communicate with someone 2,000 miles away -
say, to remind them to drop off that load of lumber - well, that's possible
too. And soon, supposedly, that instant request will be possible to and from
anywhere in the world.

What are we to do in the foreboding presence of the large commercial
carriers with their seemingly endless supply of capital and spectrum?

Private wireless won't be shoved out of the industry it created. The
commercial carriers will duke it out, no doubt, but when the dust settles on
the PTT battle, traditional two-way radio will continue on as always,
continuing to offer a trifecta of features that commercial carriers cannot
yet mimic: 1. dedicated service-, 2. group dispatch; and 3. customer

"In public safety specifically, I have serious concerns over recommending
commercial carriers' push-to-talk products," says Rik Rasmussen,
communications maintenance administrator for the city of Durham, N.C. "When
we need the service the most, it is often least available."

Additional challenges for commercial carriers are dispatch and
interoperability. Both Verizon and Nextel have limited group communications
capabilities, but in Nextel's case, the phones must be preprogrammed by the
carrier. This eliminates any chance of on-scene, two-way interoperability
"The problem commercial carriers have is their ability to transfer voice
traffic from one carrier to another," Rasmussen says.

And often overlooked but not forgotten by traditional two-way users is an
unmatched pride dealers take in being close to their customer base. In order
to differentiate their service from that of commercial carriers' dealers
need to show they can offer value-added features, including better customer
service, says Kathleen Watt, owner of Absolute Solutions, a Cheyenne,
Wyo.-based two-way radio dealer.

Commercial carriers aren't dumb, mind you. They know they can't yet compete
with private wireless for the same group of mission-critical users. They've
identified their niche whether it be enterprise or consumer - they hope to
bite on their service. They will even snare a portion of traditional two-way
users. But they will remain at least three important features - and perhaps
many more - short of significantly encroaching on our livelihood. Continue
on, private wireless!

On another note, I am pleased to introduce MissionCritical Communications'
newest editor, Jenni Rothrock. Jenni, who joins our team as associate
editor, is an accomplished editor and writer, previously working for trade
journals covering the glass manufacturing industry

We value your opinions! Please e-mail your feedback to me at jelliott @

Jeffrey Elliott

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