Popular among public safety organizations and field workers, the capability has been limited to a small number of wireless carriers. But a U.S. company has found a way to add it to 3G/4G phones

Push-to-talk coming to Android phones

For years public safety organizations and enterprises wanting walkie-talkie push-to-talk capability in cellphone handsets have been limited to carriers that have a 2G iDEN network.

However, a U.S. communications company says it’s developed a system for Android-powered handsets to have the same capability in modern 3G and 4G Internet protocol networks.

Harris Corp. said this week its BeOn solution for wireless operators will expand push-to-talk into a modern era.

BeOn-enabled handsets will not only have the usual land mobile radio (LMR) features such as group calling, individual calling, group scanning, distress calls, and dispatch/administrative services, they will also offer user location, user presence/status, and text messaging over commercial networks.

“We’ve tried to connect the best pieces of push to talk together with our history of LMR features,” said John Vaughan, senior president of global marketing for public safety and professional communications at Harris. “This allows it [local mobile] to be local, national or global.”

The company has been talking to a number of carriers about buying the platform, he said, although he can’t recall if a Canadian operator has been briefed. Pricing hasn’t been announced.

In Canada, iDEN carriers include Telus Corp. and its MiKE system, and Calgary’s Airtel Wireless Ltd. and its Churp service.

Based in Melbourne, Fla., Harris makes a wide range of communications systems for enterprise, public safety, military and air traffic control buyers.

BeOn is a server-based system based on Harris’ VIDA (Voice, Interoperability, Data and Access) platform. Subscribers would get access to the push to talk features through a download from their carrier. Enabled by an on-screen icon, a user can instantly connect to groups either by hitting a softkey or a handset key.
The user will see onscreen the name of a caller, if the caller is in a group and, thanks to GPS, the caller’s location.

Among the features is the ability to capture a group call for replay if one member misses a call.

Although BeOn has been tested on several mobile operating systems, Vaughan said his company chose the open-source Android. “We think it’s a forward-looking platform,” he said. However, he didn’t know which version of the operating system users will need to take advantage of the system. Android’s latest version is 2.2.

Vaughan hopes Harris carriers will start offering BeOn to subscribers early next year.

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