Sprint and Qualcomm try to resuscitate push-to-talk
Chip giant's Yagatta platform extends QChat to video and apps, Sprint to run DirectConnect on standard Android handsets
Published: 11 May, 2012
Push-to-talk may have made Nextel great in the 1990s but its history in the mobile data era has been tortuous. Qualcomm, supplier of Sprint Nextel's new generation of the technology, QChat, will not give up though, and is now extending the system to support IP communications services. The new platform, called Yagatta, will deliver strong over-the-top services like messaging, video and VoIP to help carriers remain competitive in the web world, said Qualcomm.
However, push-to-talk and its supposed evolution, 'push-to-all', have always had an uneasy relationship with more mainstream carrier IP services, and with newer efforts to allow operators to deliver offerings which are competitive with Skype and the rest, but harness the network itself to improve functionality. This is the goal of initiatives like the GSM Association's Rich Communications Suite (RCS), which supports a subset of key IP services like enhanced VoIP.
Mark Jacobstein, VP of product management at Qualcomm iSkoot, said that Yagatta would not compete with RCS but would be "complementary". Jacobstein, who founded mobile web firm iSkoot and was acquired by Qualcomm in 2010, commented: "We think there's a need for an IP communications platform that creates a better user experience and offers more flexibility."
The new offering will provide three elements to help integrate over-the-top services with the network. First is a back end server handling links to the network; second is a developer kit for client applications; and third is a set of apps, the first of which is Yagatta Talk, which lets users talk, text and send video via a single app. The system does not require Qualcomm chips, and could also be marketed at over-the-top providers or device makers, though carriers are the main target.
However, although Verizon, AT&T and some international operators launched push-to-talk services around 2003, when Qualcomm and others divorced the technology from Nextel's iDEN platform, they never gained significant uptake, with other messaging options already stealing the thunder from PTT. Despite that, Sprint continues to place some investment in its legacy service, and said this week that it would soon release an Android app to bring its own PTT offering, Direct Connect, to all its Android handsets, not just those with the function preloaded.
Fared Adib, VP of product development, said: "Our intention with this is to expand this platform" and spark a "renaissance" in PTT services. Sprint is moving its current iDEN PTT subscribers to its new CDMA alternative, activated last year, in readiness for the decommissioning of the iDEN network from 2013 onwards. Sprint says the CDMA service is as fast as, and sometimes faster than, the iDEN version and the upcoming Direct Connect Now PTT Android app would provide "calling performance similar to embedded devices" without the need for a specialized device with a dedicated PTT button. The app will be interoperable with the CDMA and iDEN offerings, and will integrate with Android address books.
The CDMA relaunch of PTT has been a source of many problems for Sprint, as the service loses relevance - but still keeps sufficient organizations, most long term Nextel subscribers, loyal to make a complete switch-off risky. Sprint first rolled out QChat in 2008 but then
discontinued sales of the dedicated devices the following year and moved to the CDMA-based Direct Connect PTT in 2011.