Pushing the right buttons

Voices Audio interview: Mark Langton, vice-president, corporate communications, Telus Mobility. Length: 7.48 minutes. File size: 3.12 meg. File type: mp3

Interview transcript below.

Hello, I’m Joaquim Menezes, editor of ITworldcanada.com. The subject of our Voices interview today is Push-to-Talk – the technology that allows you to use your cell phone as a walkie-talkie and communicate instantly with others at the push of a button. For many years, Telus Mobility had been the sole player in the Canadian push-to-talk market. Then in April this year Bell Mobility announced an offering in this space called 10-4. How does Telus view Bell’s entry into push-to-talk market, where is this market going, and what are some of the products available to businesses and consumers in this space. Joining us to talk about this all this is Mark Langton, vice-president of corporate communications at Telus Mobility.

Mark some experts have compared push-to-talk to instant messaging on a computer because of the immediacy in both cases…you have a buddy list, you make your selection, and then you push a button and talk. Do you think this is a good analogy?

The immediacy is there…I think…the same as with push-to-talk and instant messaging. You’ve also got the aspect that you have that instant access wherever you have coverage. So if you use instant messaging…you can use instant messaging on a wireless phone now – since we offer Yahoo and MSN, or if you use it on your portable PC etc. So it’s a good comparison as long as you build in the aspect of portability. The only thing that may knock the analogy a bit is that people view instant messaging as something often that ties them to a desktop or some other location where they have Internet access….you know what I mean? Whereas with PTT, it’s fully mobile, obviously, as part of your wireless phone. And wherever there is coverage – and with us that’s from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island and through the U.S. – you have that instant contact capability.

Coming to the issue of coverage and your two specific [push-to-talk] offerings – PCS Instant Talk and Mike Direct Connect – what’s the difference in the footprint between the two networks?

Mike in Canada operates in B.C., Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and Nova Scotia. Wheras with our PCS product, you’ve got coverage in all 10 provinces. And the coverage on our product, and Bell’s 10-4 – like Instant Talk and 10-4 – would be pretty much identical.

So would the coverage of the Instant Talk service be pretty much the same as Telus’ regular national network?

Exactly. Yes. So wherever we have PCS service you could use your Instant Talk phone. And the background to that is in eastern Canada Bell has its network. We also have our network in major cities, but we roam on Bell’s network. We’ve got what is called a roaming and resale deal. So wherever Bell has coverage in eastern Canada, we do too. Our own coverage is in the major cities and corridors. But in rural and remote locations, we would roam on Bell’s network. And the reverse is true in western Canada. Bell would roam on the Telus network in rural and remote locations, but in most big cities it has its own network. So it works out to an equivalent footprint if you will.

How do you view Bell’s entry into the push-to-talk space? Are you concerned that they may take some marketshare away from Telus?

Good point. Well the way I view it – and I’ve been in this business for quite some time…I started here in 1996, in fact, around the same time that Mike launched…and what I’ve consistently found…not necessarily on the PTT side but what I’ve found with wireless in general is that more competition and more choice tends to lead to greater penetration, to greater acceptance of the products for all carriers. So, one example for instance is Telus was always very dominant in Western Canada as the wireless carrier, and Bell obviously was always dominant in Eastern Canada. So Telus often would be going into new markets in the last few years in eastern Canada. And we’d be going up against Bell and against Rogers, sort of the incumbents in an area. And so what we found is that when we introduced ourselves, we would heavily market ourselves and sort of be…hey, there’s a new wireless player on the block. And what we’ve consistently have found is that the more noise, the more marketing, the more choice sort of propels wireless penetration in general…and I think we’re seeing that with push-to-talk as well.

In terms of the features, what’s the value proposition of Telus’ Instant Talk service as opposed to Bell’s 10-4, because both seem to geared towards the same segment of the market – which is the consumer end of the PTT sector?

They are very similar products, there is no question there. Coverage is virtually identical. I think we are a little stronger in the United States because of Verizon’s reach. But you’ve also got to look, I think, at where we are in terms of product offerings. We’ve got three handsets…or sorry…two. But two more that are going to be introduced this month. No knock on 10-4 certainly, but they have one phone right now. We have two, and within the next month we’ll have four to choose from. I would find the rate plans similar…I mean both offerings have family plan options, both have similar sort of add-ons. I think the price is within the ballpark of each other up or down. When we look at 10-4/Instant Talk as PCS-PTT – their category – I think in general for business or for consumers it’s the lighter duty PTT. If you need PTT first and foremost, you would always go for Mike, because it’s faster, it’s established, it has a huge selection of products from little flip phones for the executive level, up to rugged and public safety units used by fire and police. So it has the broadest range of wireless or PTT options in terms of products.

Talking about features – Bell’s 10-4 service offers group call capabilities (where several subscribers can speak with each other at the same time). Does Telus offer a similar capability on Instant Talk?

Not on Instant Talk. It certainly has the capability and we’re looking and introducing it, but what we’ve found is those who need that Group aspect again would tend to go towards Mike. Mike has had big groups and unlimited groups since its introduction. My understanding is two things on PCS-PTT…a fine product, but a light duty product…one that certainly isn’t as robust as Mike. So when we look at groups, we drive people towards Mike. Second, there’s really no limit on the size of a group for Mike. I mean there ultimately is when you start hitting numbers like 64,000 or whatever, but there’s no limit on the capacity for a group. There’s the ability to grow that group continually. And when we look at it, we have some clients with thousands of Mike phones and interest in having – maybe not a group that big – but subgroups that are significant – of significant size. And so when we look at PCS-PTT like Instant Talk and 10-4, I would say that if you are a heavy group user and wanting to orient your business or user group to have that group call capability, I would drive you towards Mike.

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