AT&T launches push-to-talk for business iPhones

By Dmitry Sheynin , Jun 10, 2013 02:51 PM EDT

Even before Apple's WWDC kicked off, AT&T announced a new feature for iPhone users. The carrier is bringing push-to-talk service to business accounts, enabling walkie-talkie-like communication for enterprise users.

Push-to-talk had previously been available on several devices from AT&T as well as Verizon, but never on iPhones. AT&T's new Enhanced Push-to-Talk (EPTT) will be accessible directly through an app available for the iPhone 5 and iPhone 4S.

"Across industries such as manufacturing, engineering, hospitality, construction and government, organizations need instant communications in challenging environments," said Mike Troiano, vice president for advanced mobility solutions at AT&T business solutions. "From the start, AT&T Enhanced Push-to-Talk was designed specifically for AT&T's speedy 4G LTE networks and now we are offering even more devices so our business customers can communicate faster and to larger talk groups."

The service is different from the type of push-to-talk functionality offered by Nextel in that it will operate only via Wi-Fi. While this can be perceived to be in some regards a limiting factor, it should be noted that the app is designed for internal corporate use. Typically, companies deploy Wi-Fi networks within their buildings and while on the one hand, customers will not be able to send push-to-talk messages through their cellular network, they will, on the other hand, be able to communicate via Wi-Fi when no cellular signal is present.

"The performance of AT&T's EPTT service was comparable to traditional mobile voice services," wrote IDC analyst John Weber. "With many mobile workers working within the four walls of the enterprise, building in Wi-Fi functionality is an important element to consider."

It will be interesting to see if the move by AT&T encourages even more Sprint customers to jump ship and sign up for a push-to-talk-enabled iPhone 5. Sprint is set to retire its iDEN network by the end of June and while its Direct Connect offering appears to be a solid replacement, the company admits it is having trouble convincing customers to switch over rather than go to Verizon.

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