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? 

Related Articles:

Your Avaya Developer Journey Starts Here

STEM. Hackathons. Hour of Code. Oh, my…

I’ve been in the developer and ecosystem space pretty much my entire career, and I can’t recall a time when there was a greater focus on strengthening and expanding skills in software development with new audiences. I’m excited to see Avaya making such efforts across our Team and Customer Engagement portfolios with new and expanded APIs, toolkits, and supporting educational materials for Avaya Breeze, Avaya Oceana, and Avaya Vantage.

Start Your Own Journey—It’s Free!

Many of our customers are aware of the value of the DevConnect “Compliance Tested” designation used by our DevConnect Technology Partners to indicate the proven interoperability of their products. But you may not realize that DevConnect isn’t just a testing and partner program. It’s a full-fledged and open developer program for all types of developers looking to leverage Avaya technology. You can freely browse all our developer content and it takes just a few seconds to register when you want to download a specific SDK. And it doesn’t cost you anything to do this.

For example, we’ve added online developer documentation and code samples like integrating Desk Phone Services into custom applications using Avaya Breeze™ Client SDK, which applies to Android-based mobile devices. And to go alongside that, we’ve expanded our Forum Boards to include discussions on developing custom clients for the Avaya Vantage™ Device, as well as made available a full set of source code for a basic Vantage client using the Breeze Client SDK.

But Wait… There’s More!

With the introduction of the Avaya Breeze™ Platform and the Avaya Oceana™ Solution, Avaya’s made available even more resources for developers to leverage in the form of Avaya Collaboratory and the Avaya Snapp Store.

Avaya Collaboratory provides cloud-based, fully configured developer environments to support jump-starting your projects and evaluating the powerful capabilities of Avaya Breeze and the Avaya Breeze Client SDK. Whether building snap-ins using the Java SDK for Avaya Breeze, or learning to create complex workflows in Avaya Engagement Designer, a Collaboratory environment gives you a full Avaya Aura and Breeze software stack to play around with.

And if you’re looking for additional pre-build snap-ins or workflows, there’s the Avaya Snapp Store. Similar to the DevConnect Marketplace, the Snapp Store highlights a range of Avaya-build and third-party snap-ins for Avaya Breeze or Avaya Oceana environments. Some snap-ins can even be purchased directly from the Snapp Store itself, so you can drop them into your own Collaboratory or Breeze environment in a matter of minutes.

And There’s Even More Coming

We’ve been running some very successful hackathon events around Avaya Breeze, Vantage, and Zang in the past few months, so keep your eyes open for more opportunities to get hands on with new Avaya offers. Note that Avaya Learning has introduced a variety of training courses specifically aimed at Breeze. There are also courses for Avaya Breeze Client SDK developers—on Android and Windows and on iOS and macOS, so Avaya developers can continue to build skills on these new and powerful products.

Keep watching the Avaya Developer blog for deeper insights from key technical leads for many of these products, as well as insight into how our customers and partners are leveraging these new technologies through their own application development efforts.

And even if you aren’t yet ready for the latest and greatest of what Avaya has to offer, visit the DevConnect portal—you may be surprised by what you’ll find for the Avaya products you’re currently using.

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.