Push to Talk being pushed in the wrong direction?

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OPINION: PC Authority was recently given a demonstration of 'Push to Talk' -- new mobile phone technology -- by Telstra. While the technology is simple, intuitive and obvious, I can't help but feel that even months away from launch Telstra is going to miss hitting its most important target market by not even addressing them as potential consumers.

Push to Talk technology is rather simple -- it's a button on the side of a mobile phone that temporarily turns it into a walkie talkie. The phones look identical to existing handsets. Unlike a mobile-to-mobile phone call, there's no dial-up or connection time -- the conversation is immediately broadcast when the talk button is depressed, exactly like a walkie talkie. Similarly, only one person can talk while the transmit button is depressed, although conversations can be broadcast to many people.

As with Instant Messaging, users define groups for conversations and these need to be pre-accepted by participating parties before broadcasts can begin. Multiple groups can be pre-defined or constructed in an ad hoc fashion.

While Push to Talk will have its detractors, there's no denying that it's an innovative technology. Part of this innovation is that, unlike walkie talkies that broadcast radio frequency with a limited range, Push to Talk digitises and packetises your voice over existing mobile phone CDMA and GPRS networks.

This means that Push to Talk can be always on (if you wish) and, most importantly, that it can work over vast distances. It's possible, for instance, to have a Push to Talk conversation between a person based in Perth and another in Sydney.

The downside is that the nature of sending digital communication introduces a lag between communications of a few seconds, much like a bad overseas landline phone call. This, more than anything, could already be the death knell for what is an excellent concept.

However, Telstra is trying to lend an air of legitimacy to Push to Talk tech by stating that it's going to be great for business. What business? Taxi companies, couriers, and other businesses with roaming staff. But I think Telstra really needs to take stock of who uses mobile phones and technology, because it's in danger of missing out on its largest potential user group for Push to Talk -- the youth market.

It's no secret that young people are responsible for the amazing uptake and proliferation of SMS, and something like Push to Talk just screams youth market to me. In fact, although I can see the broader, more legitimate usage of Push to Talk it's the youth market that's going to get this technology exploding off the shelves.

But the challenge test could be in how Telstra decides to price the service. The company was extremely coy in discussing this with us, and would not tell us whether it would be a monthly charge on top of the phone rental, or a user-pays system. Whatever Telstra decides, Push to Talk will have to be cheap to succeed in today's market.

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