What was once a robust marketplace may be past its prime, but that doesn’t mean that the “push-to-talk” networks so many transportation professionals have relied on for years have left the dock.

In fact, despite the impending shutdown of the famous Sprint Nextel iDEN (2G) Nextel National Network in 2013 (Sprint is transitioning customers to its Sprint Direct Connect 3G CDMA network), other telecom carriers, such as AT&T, see robust business opportunities in the push-to-talk (PTT) arena.

“The market for this kind of communication has been around for a while,” Igor Glubochansky, executive director of product management-AT&T Advanced Mobility Solutions, told Fleet Owner. “Most of it was in the Nextel Network.”

At its peak, Glubochansky said, there were approximately 16 million push-to-talk users, many of those in transportation. That market has declined in recent years and now numbers around 3 million. Still, he added, there are around 30 million potential users of push-to-talk services working in various industries and supplying critical services, including pickup-and-delivery operations and field service work.

“A lot of those customers have rugged devices,” Glubochansky added. “At AT&T, we have provided many solutions such as workflow management to those [users].”

At first glance, the decision by AT&T to invest in push-to-talk seems curious, but there is certainly a solid business case for the future of push to talk, Glubochansky said. In fact, Sprint and Verizon will continue to offer PTT services.

AT&T offers the service on six ruggedized devices with two more coming in the near future, he said. But because it is a downloadable application, the service, which is available for $5/month for those with AT&T voice and data plans or $30/month as a standalone feature, it can be incorporated into nearly any smartphone.

Glubochansky said because the service does not require its own device, it can complement existing services such as the company’s various Workforce Management Applications, which include hours-of-service compliance programs, that are available on mobile devices. The importance of this is that a fleet does not need multiple devices for management, monitoring and communication services.

“Now you have more powerful devices that have push to talk and data [capabilities] like workforce management,” Glubochansky told Fleet Owner. “The business value is really there for instant communications between drivers and the back office. I think there is a whole continuum of communications that businesses are looking at” such as email, texting and push-to-talk.

AT&T’s offering, which it is calling Enhanced Push to Talk, offers users simultaneous voice and data so they can access mobile applications while talking over the PTT network among other benefits. It integrates with business applications for field force automation, fleet management, dispatching and GPS tracking, the company said, and provides faster connection times than competitive PTT solutions through AT&T’s 3G and 4G LTE networks.

“Enhanced Push to Talk is supporting LTE and that’s huge because that is [technology] for the next five years, not the past five years, so it is a future [solution available today],” Glubochansky said. While Verizon and Sprint among others also offer PTT services, Glubochansky said AT&T’s is the only one available on a 4G LTE network.

For fleets that may utilize land mobile radio (LMR) or private mobile radio (PMR) networks, AT&T’s PTT also integrates with those systems.

The service offers a number of features that fleets could find useful, Glubochansky said, including the ability to connect up to 250 people at a time. It also offers “instant personal alerts” where a notification is sent to a contact to let them know that a PTT call will be coming, and a “supervisory override” that allows an authorized user to supersede the conversation when needed.

According to Glubochansky, “contact lists,” which can include “talk groups,” can be downloaded to the devices remotely or imported from the phone's address book.

Calls on AT&T’s Enhanced Push to Talk service connect within a second, Glubochansky added, and the typical conversation lasts less than 30 seconds, making it an ideal solution to quickly communicate important details.