Phone service like a walkie-talkie
Bell expected to follow in March
Telus Mobility is getting pushy with its wireless rivals.
The mobile phone unit of Telus Corp. launched the country's first consumer push-to-talk service
yesterday, called Instant Talk, which essentially turns
a mobile phone into a long-range walkie-talkie.
But the service, available Monday, is more like a walkie-talkie on steroids. Press one button and a
user can instantly connect to another user or group
of users anywhere between Vancouver and Halifax.
Telus hopes to extend to the consumer market the kind of success it has had with Mike, the business
push-to-talk service it has operated since 1996. Mike
works over a separate wireless network based on Motorola Inc.'s iDen technology.
Analysts said Telus's move was largely defensive because Bell Mobility is expected to unveil its own
push-to-talk service in March after earlier promises
of a 2004 launch.
Telus has had a product ready for more than a year, and while its original intent was to wait for
Bell, it decided that the best defence was a good offence.
"One of our competitors is going to launch a push-to-talk product, so we wanted to maintain our
leadership position," said George Cope, president and chief
executive officer of Telus Mobility.
North American mobile phone providers see push-to-talk as another way to boost the monthly spending
of wireless customers.
The Telus plan costs $10 more each month for subscribers paying $40 or more on an existing phone
plan. It's $20 more a month if the $40 threshold isn't
No long-distance charges apply in Canada, though a U.S. roaming fee of 20 cents a minute does apply.
Users must buy a $229 Kyocera phone ($79.99 on a three-year contract) to use the service, or wait
until a Motorola flip-phone is released later this winter.
Michael Neuman, CEO of Bell Mobility, said as far back as September 2003 that Bell would enter the
push-to-talk market in 2004 to wrestle market share away
from the unchallenged Mike service. Mike has helped Telus Mobility achieve the highest monthly
revenues per customer in the industry.
"Bell can confirm our continued interest in entering the PTT (push-to-talk) market in early 2005,"
Bell Mobility told the Toronto Star in a statement.
A spokesperson for the Rogers Wireless said there are no developments to discuss, but the company is
watching the push-to-talk market closely.
One industry source said it's unclear whether Canadians will pay for such a service. "I don't see a
need for another way to communicate," said the source,
citing the existence of wireless text messaging, email, voice and instant messaging.
Dvai Ghose, an analyst with CIBC World Markets, said a likely focus will be the youth market, which
has not yet been tapped by Telus's Mike service.
"If you're going after the traditional blue-collar worker, you're wasting your time," said Ghose,
adding that push-to-talk, like text messaging, could prove
to be a popular way for kids to interact with each other and their parents.
Mobile phone companies in Canada are watching developments south of the border, where major wireless
carriers, specifically Verizon Wireless and Sprint
PCS, have spent the past year challenging the dominance of Nextel Communications Inc. in the
Nextel uses the same iDen technology as Telus does with its Mike service.
Sprint PCS's planned mega-merger with Nextel could shake up the market. As part of that merger, the
companies plan by 2006 to make it possible for Nextel
and Sprint PCS push-to-talk users to communicate with each other. This would require Nextel's iDen
technology to inter-operate with Sprint's CDMA network.
Telus, which operates both an iDen and CDMA network, has a strong relationship with Nextel and could
benefit from its work with Sprint PCS.
"What's going to be interesting is two to three years down the road when you have this kind of
hybrid product," said Ghose.
For now, Telus is making it clear that Instant Talk is a "lighter version" of Mike, or as one
analyst put it, "Mike Lite."
It takes four to six seconds for a connection to be made through Instant Talk, while Mike connects
users in less than a second, making it more reliable
for business purposes.
Ray T. Mahorney
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