Push-To-Talk Lives! Where a 90s Technology Fits in Today's Unified Communications Landscape

It’s funny how a little danger can bring people together and spark a conversation.

Early last week, I was on an American Airlines flight from SFO to Charlotte, on my way to International Avaya Users Group (IAUG) Converge 2013 in Orlando (Plug Alert: check out the half-dozen blogs I wrote from the conference.)
Busy with work, I ignored the 50-something lady next to me (to be fair, it was mutual). Not until we neared Charlotte, when the plane started bumping, and my stomach started jumping. To take my mind off my rising nausea, I started making small talk, and soon found out that she was a former CTO of a billion-dollar pharmaceuticals company who had switched over to consulting biotech startups and was now headed to a biomedical conference in Atlanta.
Somehow we ended up reminiscing about mid-90s cellphones like the Motorola StarTac, during which she confessed that while iPhones like the one she carried were nice and all, the feature she really missed was Push-To-Talk
This was the feature that turns your cellphone into a walkie-talkie or CB radio. If you were like me and grew up in the 70s during the heyday of TV shows like BJ and the Bear and CHIPS, you probably fell for the manly glamour of CB radio-using truckers and walkie-talkie-using motorcycle cops like I did. 

Or maybe it was just the awesome marketing.
Though I was a certified fanboy as a kid, I never actually used Push-To-Talk as an adult. Something about never having been a construction worker or stadium usher, I guess.
But my seatmate told me that she used PTT all of the time, as it was the quickest way to reach her family for short conversations. Sorta like texting, but without annoying AutoCorrect. Her question to me: could she still get PTT?
I didn’t really know, though that didn’t stop me from misguidedly mansplaining, anyway. I said I thought PTT was probably dead for several reasons. First, while Push-To-Talk was a popular feature in certain professions, it had never really caught on with the mainstream. That was why Sprint had purchased Nextel in 2004, the U.S. carrier most closely identified with PTT, and not vice-versa.
Also, I said that Nextel’s PTT relied on a communications technology developed by Motorola called iDEN that only worked with a particular bit of spectrum – a frequency range that had probably become overcrowded years ago and was unlikely to be released by the U.S. government again.
Finally, I resisted saying this, but I was thinking: in the age of supercomputers-in-your-pocket, what consumers or businesspeople would want to use a crude, half-duplex (i.e. semi-real-time) communications medium like PTT?
Turns out, a lot more people than my tiny brain could imagine. The three largest U.S. carriers are all now in the PTT game. While Sprint is shuttering the old Nextel PTT network, it is in the midst of trying to move all of those users over to Android smartphones running on its new mainstream service, Sprint Direct Connect. 
Verizon has been trying to steal those users since it began offering PTT-enabled BlackBerries three years ago. But the bigger threat to Sprint is AT&T. Besides PTT-enabled Android smartphones, AT&T is readying PTT-enabled iPhones running on its latest-generation LTE network. According to AllThingsD:
AT&T is hoping this will offer the sweet spot of business collaborative capabilities inside a consumer-friendly package. 
Having seen all of this, I’m now convinced that Push-To-Talk has a long future as a business tool. Sure, texting, Twitter, video conferencing, etc. are all growing and becoming more mainstream. But for many settings and industries, convenience, speed and freedom from toypos are all that consumers and businesspeople want and need. And I have no doubt that WebRTC will enable the creation of dozens of PTT-like apps. Though considering PTT’s strong industrial heritage, I would argue that PTT app developers should consider a more enterprise-oriented platform, such as the coming Avaya Aura Collaboration Environment.
Any readers out there still using PTT? What industry are you in? And are you considering switching services? 

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The Rise of the Mobile Device

I maintain two blogs. There is, of course, my SIP blog. I also have one that is as far from SIP and IP technology as you can possibly get.

They draw very different audiences, but over the past few years I’ve seen the same change in how those blogs are accessed. If I look back at 2010, I find that most of my readers came in on Windows PCs and Internet Explorer. As the months went by, I saw a few more Apple users. I also saw IE being replaced by Firefox and Chrome.

However, the biggest change I’ve seen over the years is less access via computers, and more people reading my blogs on smartphones and tablets. The view counts for iOS and Android have skyrocketed. In fact, if I lump Windows and Mac together, their numbers are now smaller than the combined totals of the other devices.

Perhaps this is anecdotal, but I don’t think so. The way that I personally access digital data mirrors my blog statistics. While I still find it significantly easier to type blog posts—such as this one—on my Lenovo Twist, I turn to my iPhone for most everything else.

I read and write emails, browse the web, run specialized applications, watch videos, play music, and access maps and navigation all day long on my iPhone. My PC has become the machine with the big keyboard, mouse, and two monitors.

Anyone who has been following this blog knows that I also run a number of SIP clients on my iPhone. It has gotten to the point where it is now my go-to device for enterprise communications. My Avaya 9641 SIP phone is great, but my job requires me to be mobile and an Ethernet cable only reaches so far.

This blog entry originally appeared on SIP Adventures, and is reprinted with permission.

Speaking of distance, I am writing this blog from Terminal 3 at the Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Arizona. While getting away from the cold of my Minnesota home should be reason enough, I came out here to work with a major hospital chain on upgrading their aging communications infrastructure.

A good deal of my time was spent talking about line cards, gateways, and trunks, but mobility was also a major agenda item. I expect that moving communications away from traditional black and gray wired telephones is on the minds of every health care institution.

Doctors come into the hospital carrying tablets and smartphones. Nurses are on their feet all day long moving from one patient to the next. They all need to communicate and they all need to do so on the run.

Healthcare providers have the responsibility of protecting their patient’s privacy and personal medical data. Any communications device, protocol, and process must have security built in from the ground up. Transport Layer Security (TLS), Secure Real-Time Protocol (SRTP), Session Border Controllers, SIP authentication, and encrypted data storage all work together to provide that secure foundation for even the most stringent of hospitals.

If I am lucky I will be back here in Phoenix before the end of winter and I am certain that these conversations will continue. Better yet, I hope that the migration from their older TDM equipment begins in earnest. There will be growing pains, but the rewards are significant.

Okay, my plane is at the gate and I need to start packing up if I want to get onboard before all the overhead bins are filled.

FAA regulations require me to power down and store my PC, but my iPhone will stay on and connected until they close the cabin doors. One more reason why this little mobile device of mine has become my closest technology friend.

Five For Friday: 5 Reasons Why Android KitKat Is Awesome For Enterprise

With the latest version of Android (4.4 KitKat) just barely over the horizon, businesses may be wondering what’s to come. While KitKat is currently only available on Google’s new Nexus 5 smartphone, it’s expected to roll out to other devices in the upcoming weeks.

Photo credit:Google

Android owns an 81 percent share of the global smartphone market, so it’s safe to say that enterprise mobility and “bring your own device” policies will be affected by the new things KitKat has to offer.

So will KitKat enhance productivity, or bog it down? Here are the five reasons we think KitKat will be great for enterprise mobility:

1. Print From Your Phone: Not being able to print from a smartphone makes for a particularly frustrating mobile office experience. Kitkat allows you to wirelessly sync with some HP and ePrint printers to print photos, documents, and web pages right from your mobile device. Gone are the days of emailing yourself a link or a doc, so you can print it later from computer.

2. Record Your Screen:  A new, preloaded recording app in KitKat allows people to record their actions on their screen and then save to an MP4 video file. This holds immense potential for customer experience. Contact center agents can now diagnose an issue with a mobile app or service by simply asking customers to record the issue on their phone and attach it to their support ticket.

3. Customize Your Volume: Poor audio can ruin an important phone call or video conference. KitKat includes a loudness enhancer, which allows you to set a custom profile capable of tuning your phone’s volume for voices, boosting volume and improving audio quality. That’s definitely a plus for those of us who take office calls whenever and wherever.

4. IR Blaster Support: IR Blaster is a little-known feature that’s getting a big upgrade in KitKat. IR Blaster is a infrared transmitter that turns mobile devices into remote controllers for other gadgets.

Android 4.4 allows IR Blaster support for third-party apps, which opens the doors for many different remote control possibilities. With so many different devices at the office or at your home desk, you’ll be able to control them all with the universal remote you always have with you: Y
our phone.

5. Google Now Has Been Improved: While this is a feature that may only be accessible on the Nexus 5 for awhile, it’s worth mentioning. Google has improved its voice recognition system Google Now by 25 percent.

Early reviews say it’s a big real-world improvement, with fewer incorrect results and the ability to choose from a selection of other results if Now isn’t pulling up exactly what you ask for. On top of that, Now can be activated by simply saying, “OK Google” to the launch screen.

Google is allowing a small group of developers to use the Google Now API to enable their third-party apps to be findable by Google Now. Searching for apps, documents and schedules will no longer have to be a process that involves you scrolling endlessly through menus.

You won’t be able to completely replace your laptop with your smartphone or tablet while you’re on the go. But KitKat certainly makes it easier to get by without it. And with more and more Android devices on the market, as well as more companies embracing BYOD, it’s clear KitKat will have far-reaching effects on enterprise mobility.

iOS 7's Nine Killer Enterprise Features

I came across a great SlideShare deck over the weekend entitled, “The iOS 7 Apple Event for the Enterprise – that Never Happened.” Created by San Francisco mobile design software vendor Moovweb, it imagines a presentation by Apple CEO Tim Cook unveiling iOS 7’s enterprise features in front of an audience of CIOs. Here is that list.

(Are you, like me, vacillating between upgrading to an iPhone 5S and jumping over to a larger Android phone like the LG G2 or HTC One? Then check out the 5 things I love and HATE about the iPhone 5S.)

– TouchID fingerprint authentication. Employees with weak passwords are the bane of security-conscious companies. Fingerprint-based authentication is a big boost.

– Free iWork mobile apps and in the cloud. Apple has made its Microsoft Office killer free and cloud-accessible, just like Google Docs. While big companies wedded to Microsoft’s enterprise licensing program are unlikely to drop Office anytime soon, this could help smaller firms standardized on Apple hardware to dump Office once and for all.

– App Store Volume Purchase Program. Enterprises can now buy apps and books for their iPhone and iPad-using employees, keeping the rights to those apps and books if the employees leave, so that they can transfer them to other workers. This may not seem like a big deal for $0.99 apps, but it’s a big deal for pricier B2B apps, especially when we’re talking about tens of thousands of employees. Previously, companies had to go through a process of buying redemption codes that it would hand out to employees for them to go out and download the apps on their own. That was complicated and left open a number of uncertainties (did the employee ever get the app? for one).

– Managed Open In. A cryptic phrase meaning that companies can force employees to open email attachments in specific, corporate-managed applications, rather than some possibly-insecure or overly-sharing app of their own choosing. This improves security for the company. 

– Enterprise Single-Sign-On. This smooths the process of granting iPhone-wielding users access your company’s back-end applications.

– Per-App VPN (Virtual Private Network). This allows companies to boost security for select iOS apps and their data as they are transmitted through the Internet. 

– Easier Deployment of Mobile Device Management (MDM) Software (SAP Afaria, Airwatch, Good Technology, etc.). ‘Nuff said.

– Improved Data Security for App Store apps. ‘Nuff said.

– Location iBeacons allow the locations of Apple device users to found with much greater precision than GPS or Wi-Fi. This is useful for retail stores, which may want to beam coupons to users but vary them depending on what aisle they are in and what merchandise they are browsing.