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Push To Talk vs. Two Way Radios

Dec 21, 2007
Push to talk is often confused as being the same thing as a two way radio. While it is true that two way radios use push to talk communication (think walkie-talkies), push to talk or PTT is a feature that can be added on to a cell phone plan for use on your cell phone. Two way radios on the other hand, are simply two way radios, with no additional features.

Two way radios have utilized the push to talk feature for decades in a variety of settings. Until recently, two way radios have been used primarily by industrial type workers, emergency crews, and utility companies. And although the communication takes place on a secure channel, the conversation is not necessarily one kept under a shroud of privacy. When using push to talk through your cell phone provider, the communication can be as private as a regular cell phone call.

Using push to talk is much like the old days of playing with walkie-talkies with your friends around the neighborhood. Only now, when push to talk is used as an additional feature on your cell phone, it has the capability of maintaining communication to national, and international customers. And instead of crackly, indecipherable conversations as was typical with walkie a talkie, the reception with push to talk is as clear as a standard phone call.

A perfect example of the benefit of using two way radios is in an emergency situation. An emergency dispatcher using a two way radio has the ability to communicate with and dispatch an officer to an emergency while maintaining contact with an emergency caller. The officer dispatched to the emergency can communicate with the dispatcher on his way to, and at the scene of the emergency with the touch of a button. If a cell phone were used in an emergency situation rather than a two way radio, critical time could be lost waiting for a cellular phone connection. When using two way radios, communication between users is instantaneous.

The way push to talk works through your cell phone is fairly simple, like using walkie- talkies; only radio IDs similar to phone numbers are designated for specific users, allowing for the privacy of a cell phone conversation. Here is a simple guide to using your push to talk phone:

* Enter the radio ID of the person you want to contact

* Push down and hold the push to talk button on the phone. When a specific tone is emitted, usually resembling a beep beep sound, the call is clear and ready to be made

* You are connected! Be sure to hold down the push to talk button while you're talking.

* When the other person is ready to talk, let go of the talk button and wait for their response.

* Wait until you hear the tone indicating it's clear to talk, then push and hold down your talk button to respond.

* When you're finished, push the talk button again, and the call is complete.

As with any service, there are pros and cons to using the push to talk service. Although it is estimated there are currently 20 million (and growing) push to talk customers, not everyone in your address book is likely to be available through push to talk. This limits the number of personal calls you will likely be making through push to talk. If however, this is something that will be used for a specific business related purpose, and everyone you need to talk to is guaranteed to be in the push to talk network it can be amazing.

Imagine an event such as a rock concert in a large stadium, with several outlying parking lots and hundreds of events staff. Using push to talk communication, calls can be made from one event staff to another, (one to one) or from the head of the event to all 200 employees (one to many, often called group push to talk). Instantaneous communication at a huge event, with multiple employees could potentially eliminate any number of unforeseen complications.

This expediency in communication is easily translated to any number of industries. In a situation such as a major metropolitan power outage, utility workers can have the capability of communicating between one another even while regular modes of communication are out, even cell phone towers. In a situation such as this, the coverage area is more limited, reaching a few miles rather than across state lines. Nevertheless, this type of communication is perfect for a power outage, enabling utilities and utility workers to restore utility services while maintaining communication with one another. Some carriers even have the ability for users of their networks to use the push to talk functionality off-air. This means users working in very remote areas where cell towers are unable to reach, such as logging companies working deep in wooded areas, can still use the radio functions to communicate effectively and instantly to one another on the same carrier's network.

Yet another benefit of push to talk is that it isn't cost prohibitive; minutes used across push to talk networks aren't deducted from monthly cell phone minute allotments. A basic plan for push to talk can be purchased as an additional feature for a regular cell phone. A plan with unlimited minutes between push to talk customers is around $9.99 on top of a regular cell phone bill. Family plans can be purchased for push to talk groups, starting at $19.99/per month. In addition to this benefit is that of international communication capability. With an international talk plan, calls can be made across international boundaries without the hassle of extremely high rates.

As opposed to regular cell phone conversations, push to talk is perfect for immediate, brief conversations. This feature is ideal for business meetings, or something as simple as instant communication between two spouses in a crowded grocery store. Push to talk phones are also cropping up all at amusement parks across the country. Teenagers can split up across an amusement park while maintaining contact with parents, all without deducting minutes from a monthly cell phone allotment or incurring roaming charges when out of network.

As with any type of communication, there are a few drawbacks when using push to talk services. One such disadvantage is that nuances of a regular conversation are lost as only one person at a time can talk while the other listens. This is especially true because there is a bit of a lag in time between communications, making the conversation seem a bit stilted. Another drawback is how obnoxious this type of conversation can be in a public place. Not only does someone within the vicinity of the call have to listen to your side of the conversation, they have to listen to the other end as well. Considering the current lack of cell phone manners, this adds an entirely new level of etiquette and privacy concerns.

Another drawback of using push to talk instead of a standard two way radio is the monthly fee attached to your cell phone bill. A two way radio can be purchased for a one-time cost of anywhere from $20-$250, while a push to talk cell phone customer can pay $9.99/per month up to $19.99/per month for similar features.

There are several differences between the push to talk feature of a cell phone and two way radios. Each has unique benefits and drawbacks catering to specific ranges of customers. A two way radio is a great device to stay in contact with your 14-year-old while visiting an amusement park. It's doubtful however that you would want to give the same 14-year-old unlimited access to your push to talk cell phone.

It seems likely that although there are a limited number of customers currently connected to the cell phone push to talk network, it's only a matter of time before that changes. While Nextel was once the only provider of this service, almost all other cell phone networks either currently offer services, or have plans in the immediate future to do so. Although it was once the stand alone feature differentiating Nextel from other networks, this is no longer the case. SouthernLINC Wireless, AT&T & Verizon all offer push to talk packages, and other networks are not far behind. Just as text messaging was once a rare cell phone feature, now it's hard to imagine anyone buying a plan without it.
About the Author
To learn more about push to talk and two way radio technologies visit SouthernLINC Two Way Radios.
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