Clarity Communications Systems — bought last month by ISCO International — announced that its software-based, push-to-talk (P2T) inTouch solution could be used on any cell phone equipped with Qualcomm's BREW application programming interface, version 3.1 or later.

“This is software that can be adapted to lots of different phones — even phones that weren't originally designed with the intent that they would be a push-to-talk phone,” said Bill Jenkins, vice president of product management for Clarity.

Although P2T functionality is popular among enterprises like public safety, there traditionally has been a limited choice of P2T-capable handsets because the vendor was required to build the feature into the unit, Jenkins said. With Clarity's inTouch solution, P2T can be installed on a phone without affecting the vendor, he said.

“This approach doesn't require the handset vendor to cooperate with us,” Jenkins said. “This one does not require the handset vendor to make any accommodations for this application, as long as it's got BREW 3.1.”

Handsets already certified to operate the Clarity P2T application include the Kyocera KX440 and KX12, and the Motorola 323i, L7C SLVR and W385. Handsets in certification testing are the Motorola K1M KRZR and Z6M ROKR.

BREW is best known as a platform that enables gaming on a mobile phone that already is in operation. A key technical challenge for Clarity was to develop an effective P2T solution that appears to be a built-in feature of the phone, Jenkins said.

“The way a game works, the user powers up the phone and, at some time, they decide they want to play a game,” he said. “They bring up a menu, navigate through that menu, find the game, launch the game and play the game. When they're done with that session, they exit [the game], and now their phone is a phone again.

“But that's not what the user behavior for push-to-talk is. So, you want your application to be always on, always operating in the background and always ready to come to the foreground.”

While the application is always on, the inTouch solution does not require much energy, which was crucial to Clarity, Jenkins said.

“If you're not careful, it absolutely would [drain the handset's battery life],” he said. “We put a lot of effort into being on and in the background and not consuming resources.”

Although the inTouch application can be downloaded to any certified handset, Jenkins said Clarity is not marketing the solution directly to consumers. Instead, the company is forging agreements with cellular carriers, which have the option of offering the P2T capability via a software download, he said.

One such carrier is Illinois Valley Cellular. Pam Craig, the carrier's data-roaming administrator, said the company sells the service to business and government customers, such as municipalities and schools. For example, police and city employees in Marseilles, Ill., are leveraging inTouch not just for P2T, but also for paging, which is saving those customers money because they don't have to purchase multiple devices, Craig said.

According to Jenkins, inTouch operates through the cellular network using a server in Clarity's hosting center. If there is a market demand for peer-to-peer capability — something that is conceivable if the nationwide 700 MHz network for public safety is built as envisioned — Jenkins said inTouch could be used in that manner.

“There's no reason why we couldn't adapt our solution to work in a peer-to-peer mode,” he said.

Meanwhile, inTouch is designed so that a cellular user can have P2T capability with an LMR radio user — something Clarity plans to demonstrate as part of the Department of Homeland Security's Radio over Wireless Broadband initiative, Jenkins said.