Software and the Cloud Make Push-To-Talk Sexy Again

With so many new ways to have voice conversations each day, you’d think I’d have tried them all. However, I never got into the PTT, or Push To Talk, movement that government and utility workers have. The reason I shied away from the walkie-talkie phone services — aside from the fact that they sounded like walkie-talkies, that is — was due to platform and network requirements. Few PTT solutions work across different carrier networks or on handsets running various operating systems. But one service I recently tested out has the potential to change my mind.

I got some hands on time with WAVE Connections, a beta mobile application from Twisted Pair Solutions, and it could resolve both of issues that kept from using the phone as a push-to-talk device. For now the software only works on certain BlackBerry (s rimm) handsets and some older Windows Mobile (s msft) phones, but since it’s a data-driven software solution, it could theoretically work on many supported platforms. Conversations are secured with the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). And because it transmits voice as data, it can also work across operator networks ranging from 3G mobile broadband to Wi-Fi. You could potentially have a direct, instant conversation with a colleague on Sprint’s (s s) network from an AT&T (s t) handset, for example. Here’s how the company explains it:

WAVE Connections uses your device’s data network to connect you. WAVE software creates a virtual meeting in the internet ‘cloud’. Any device using WAVE Connections that is logged in and tuned to the appropriate Talk Group participates in the conversation. Because WAVE Connections uses Internet Protocol (IP) to create connections, it does not matter if there are 2 or 200 people on the Talk Group. In fact, the amount of traffic over the wireless connection for each device is the same regardless of the number of participants.

Since I don’t have a BlackBerry (s rimm) device, the folks at Twisted Pair Solutions shipped one over and walked me through the configuration process. For the beta, it was simply a matter of signing up and installing the software on the handset. A few other client settings were required, such as the WAVE Connections server, but if you can set up an email app on a mobile phone, you can certainly set this up. After that, I was off and running, or PTT’ing as it were.

Tapping a button on the side of the BlackBerry activates the microphone so that you can speak. Once you’ve said your piece, you release the button, just like a walkie-talkie. Sound quality was outstanding: better than a cellular voice call on a speakerphone, by comparison. I suspect that quality will vary based on the data connection, however, which can be highly variable. Of course, since this is a system where only one person can speak at a time, there’s some getting used to the timing of a two-way radio conversation. But once I had the hang of that, I found it to be an effective and instant communications method.

The WAVE software doesn’t just support two-person conversations, however. Within the online configuration, you can set up groups of multiple people: say, the entire GigaOM team in a GigaOMTalk group, for example. With the software we could then communicate by voice as a group at the touch of a button. Ideally, the solution is geared for field workers, but I’m reminded of a short list I put together last week comprised of smartphone applications for families. This solution, once out of beta and on additional platforms, would make a nice addition to that list, and could be used for family communications on vacation, at events or throughout the day as needed.

Thanks to software, voice as data and a cloud service to put it all together, WAVE Connections looks to have a promising future by bringing a new twist to an old communications method.