MCP Insights

Commercial PTT Technology: What it Means for Your Land Mobile Radio Strategy

Posted on April 28, 2017 by Todd Johnson

Mission-critical communication technologies have evolved at a dramatic pace in the last several years, leaving public safety leaders trying to evaluate what’s available, how it functions with other technologies, and how it can augment their existing systems.

One of those emerging technologies is commercial push-to-talk (PTT) functionality.

Commercial PTT functionality already has proven extremely valuable to public works, utilities, transportation, schools, etc. Within the public safety industry, and with our clients, we’re starting to see greater opportunities for it to integrate with traditional land mobile radio (LMR).

In this post, we’ll talk more about PTT technology and how it could directly benefit first responders. (If you want an in-depth look at this technology and how it’s impacting our industry, download our free whitepaper on this topic.)

What is PTT technology?

The first PTT commercial service was launched in the U.S. in 1996 by the company formally known as Nextel (they become part of Sprint in 2005.)

At a very basic level, PTT is a way of switching between from voice reception mode and transmit mode simply by pushing a button.

When PTT first was launched, it leveraged Frequency Division Multiple Access (FDMA) and Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA) technology, as well as speech compression, to enable one-to-one and one-to-many transmissions. Originally it was targeted to companies that needed to engage in dispatch operations, such as taxi services and commercial trucking operations. It’s evolution in the last five years has been dramatic for several reasons, one of which is the evolution of smartphones. And now, PTT applications are being provided by third-party providers that are independent of the carriers.

We believe there is a lot of opportunity to interface commercial PTT service with existing public safety LMR systems, at least until the day that public safety communications will rely on a PTT application riding on a broadband network such as the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network (NPSBN) being implemented under the auspices of the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet).

How PTT technology benefits first responders

Benefits of PTT technology within public safety are many, especially given the high cost of public safety-grade radios compared with smartphones. Some of these benefits include:

  • Improved coverage. Many LMR systems, even those installed as recently as the early to mid-2000s, are unable to provide rural and in-building coverage provided by most of today’s cellular networks. This creates massive problems for today’s first responders.
  • LMR integration. Several PTT applications that integrate with LMR systems have emerged. The benefit for first responders? They can connect with their agency’s radio system when their agency-issued radio cannot. This is especially useful when an agency needs to maintain communications when responding to events outside their jurisdiction.
  • Instant interoperability. Often, command-level personnel, such as police and fire chiefs or government leaders, need to communicate with incident commanders when a major incident occurs. Implementing PTT technology that interfaces with the agency’s LMR system saves the large expense associated with issuing a portable radio to chiefs and government leaders, while enabling them to establish communications with responders.

Not a LMR replacement, but an effective complement

Clearly, PTT technology serves as an effective adjunct to first responder networks. Additionally, because most first responders use their smartphones while on the job, the marriage between commercial PTT and the public safety sector is a natural fit.

It's worth taking the time to investigate whether interfacing your existing public safety LMR system with a commercial PTT service—particularly if coverage for public safety users needs to be extended, or if you want to save the dollars for a radio altogether for command-level personnel.

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