Enterprise-Wide Push-to-Talk and the Marriage of Radios With Smart Devices

With more than a billion smartphones in use worldwide, the impact these devices have made on our working and private lives is profound. Yet despite this meteoric rise in the use of smartphones and other mobile computing devices, IT managers across many industries — at public safety organizations in particular where poor communications can cost lives and at enterprises reliant on mobile teams — have been slow to adopt the use of these devices for mission- or business-critical push-to-talk (PTT) communications.

Workers already carry smartphones for a variety of tasks other than voice communications—from cloud storage access to mapping to email. But the ability to talk to one another remains the most important form of communication and when businesses can make it simpler for their employees to talk, they should do so. Problematically, organizations do not harness the full potential of smartphones as PTT devices.

In part, this is because many enterprises already have other PTT systems in place, such as land mobile radio (LMR) or carrier-based proprietary PTT networks like Sprint’s now-defunct iDEN. Since smartphones have traditionally been disconnected from these older systems, these businesses have been unable to take advantage of them to create a truly enterprise-wide, voice communications network. Too often, the result is a fragmented communications ecosystem in which, despite of the ubiquity of various, powerful communications devices, one team cannot instantly talk to another due simply to device or network incompatibility.

For organizations to reach peak efficiency, all teams should be able to communicate instantly and seamlessly, without barriers caused by such incompatible devices or networks. But because organizations so often rely on LMR (i.e., two-way radio) systems for PTT, they are often unable to achieve this kind of instant, enterprise-wide connectivity.

As a stand-alone system, radio networks are not the ideal communications solution many are made to believe. Their proprietary nature means that they are not naturally interoperable with other systems, even with other radio systems. They are also purely single-function devices, restricted to only voice communications. Radio networks are moreover limited by geographic reach and cannot effectively link workers spread over the entire footprint of an organization. And yet many organizations do not want to simply replace these radio systems because they continue to be useful devices in certain situations where rugged, durable or intrinsically safe tools are necessary.

This prevailing idea that users must choose between systems based entirely on radio or entirely on smart devices is misleading. A third option is available that lets organizations continue to use radio systems while connecting them to smartphones and other, newer devices. It is possible to extend the reach of older, legacy systems so that two-way radio users can reach others outside of their radio network and connect to staff carrying smart devices—from BlackBerry devices, to iPhones, to Windows-based smartphones and more.

Given this, there is no reason that organizations should limit their PTT infrastructure to LMR systems — not when they can be connected to more powerful devices and networks that allow for PTT that extends across an enterprise, rather than being limited only to small, local user groups.

Of course, incumbent technology vendors will attempt to dissuade customers from abandoning existing technology. But radio systems alone do not and should not define mobile workforce communications for the enterprise — they are often unaffordable to maintain or upgrade and, on their own, are incapable of delivering PTT throughout an entire enterprise.

Instead, the goal of communications systems should be interoperability. This means that organizations can continue to use legacy devices when necessary, made possible by available software that effectively and securely unites all of these disparate devices and networks — radio systems, smartphones and tablets, desktop and laptop PCs and more — under one roof. Dispatchers on a desktop, for example, can manage PTT channels for users carrying any combination of two-way radios and smartphones.

This type of enterprise-wide PTT — where everyone from management to office workers to field teams has real-time access to one another regardless of location, device or network — is game-changing for enterprise communications. Take, for instance, the many organizations today already benefitting from this technology. U.S. military and government agencies, large multi-national hospitality chains, public safety organizations, oil and gas producers and others are all using software such as Twisted Pair’s WAVE to ensure that all critical teams can communicate with one another without boundaries of device or network.

Very rarely do organizations have the chance to bridge old and new technology to create a more powerful solution than was previously available. Enterprises that have long relied on two-way radios or carrier PTT networks must realize that these systems alone are no longer adequate in an environment where much more powerful communications devices are available. Without the need to face an either/or choice between legacy systems and smartphones, organizations are free to pick the devices and networks best-suited for their teams’ needs.

The vast array of devices available to workers today should make work easier — not more complicated. Creating enterprise-wide PTT, where any employee can communicate with any other — regardless of device, network, location or job title — does just that.

James Mustarde is responsible for marketing at Twisted Pair Solutions.