Ericsson has announced a new way to send messages via a GSM network that is said not to require users to type an SMS, or send an e-mail, and costs less than a cellular call.

"Even with all the communications choices we have, there are often times when a quick message has to be sent, and a fast response is required, without the sender having to go through the hassle of writing an SMS or having a drawn-out conversation," says Hendrik Bredenkamp, manager: mobile systems at Ericsson SA.

"With Push to Talk (PTT) technology, existing cellular networks can be used to send the equivalent of verbal SMS messages to multiple recipients, similar to the technology used by Internet chat rooms." PTT is a form of two-way communication, almost like a walkie-talkie, that allows users to communicate with one or more receivers via their mobile phones.

How does it work? First PTT customers register with their network. Every user then sets up a buddy list on their PTT-enabled phones. Each contact that has their phone switched on is highlighted on this list to show they are immediately available. Naturally, users can choose to mark themselves as unavailable when in meetings, or when they require privacy. On PTT-enabled handsets, the user simply selects the contact or a group to send a message to, presses a button on the phone and talks.

Some initial PTT offerings in the US are restricted to one network only, an unattractive solution. Ericsson’s PTT solution, called Instant Talk, has been designed with interoperability in mind. Instant Talk ensures that users from different cellular providers can send and receive messages without network problems, which makes it a cost-effective solution to be implemented.

The Ericsson Instant Talk solution is supported by most cellular technologies, such as GSM/GPRS, EDGE and CDMA2000 networks with relative ease.

"Unlike old walkie-talkies, Instant Talk users are not limited by the distance from each other, but can be located anywhere in the world, as long as they are in range of a cellular provider that provides the service," adds Bredenkamp.

"In Africa there is enormous potential for PTT technologies, as many people cannot afford cellular calls and the illiteracy rate is high, putting SMS out of reach of a large number of Africans," Bredenkamp concludes. "With Instant Talk, however, illiteracy is irrelevant, as one simply has to talk - and it will cost less than a voice call." Bredenkamp expects Instant Talk services to appear in Africa towards the end of this year.

ICT World