Ford Motor Company has signed a contract with Sprint to let 8000 Ford employees replace their desktop phones with Sprint mobile phones with Ready Link, the wireless carrier's push-to-talk (P2T) service provided over its CDMA-based network.

Ford decided to eschew landline phones in favor of mobile phones for its product-development employees — primarily engineers — who “need to be more mobile than ever before” as they travel to testing facilities and manufacturing plants throughout the nation, said Ford spokeswoman Valerie Rosnik.

Rosnik said 800 of the product-development employees already have been issued Sprint mobile phones, and the entire group of 8000 is scheduled to be outfitted with the mobile solution by the end of the year. Typically, these workers will be given 90 days with both the mobile and desktop phones in an effort to let employees transition smoothly to a mobile-only environment, she said.

Ford's product-development group sought a mobile solution that would let its employees communicate using one device instead of maintaining messages on a desktop phone, pager and a mobile phone, Sprint spokesman Jeff Schafer said.

Sprint launched the Ready Talk service in 2003 after watching Nextel gain enterprise market share by leveraging its iDEN-based P2T technology. Last month, Sprint and Nextel announced plans to merge the companies, but it is “simply too early” to speculate whether the merger impacts either carrier's walkie-talkie plans, Schafer said.

Today, Sprint's mobile phones do not provide voice over Wi-Fi, but Schafer said such functionality is in the carrier's plans.

“That's coming,” he said. “The more flexible the phones are, the more value they will have to customers trying to replace multiple devices with one device.”