Recent push-to-talk handset additions by Kyocera and Motorola indicate that vendors are beginning to expand their focus beyond the business/enterprise sector that spawned the service to a more consumer-oriented approach.

Last month, Motorola unveiled three P2T handsets, one based on the GSM platform and two that are CDMA-based. The V400p is a quad-band GSM handset that offers one-touch push-to-talk capability and an integrated speakerphone. It also offers consumer-oriented features such as a digital camera, downloading capability and MP3 ringtones. The T300p and V65p also offer a dedicated push-to-talk button and integrated speakerphone. While the T300p was created for rugged conditions, the V65p is designed for “elegant” situations with a sleek metal housing.

In January, Kyocera announced the 3250, the company's first handset to include one-touch walkie-talkie functionality. It is the only P2T handset offered by Alltel, which began offering P2T service in January. The 3250 supports Kodiak's Real-Time Exchange platform, which Alltel is using as its P2T platform, as well as voice-over-Internet protocol platforms such as Togabi Technology's PacketCHAT and Qualcomm's BREWChat.

Motorola wants to provide P2T handsets to carriers that want to hit different niche markets, according to Steve Bahlmann, global product director.

“The initial focus for a lot of carriers has been on the enterprise play, but the positive aspect is that the consumer market is opening up quite drastically,” he said. “I think most carriers believe the consumer play is going to do nothing but grow.”

Bahlmann added that providing push-to-talk services over CDMA and GSM platforms makes perfect sense, given the company's heritage. “Basically, Motorola was the inventor of cellular technology and walkie-talkies … push-to-talk over cellular is the next logical extension of that.”

Brett Kayzar, staff product manager for Kyocera, described the consumer market as having “huge untapped potential.” Kaczor believes P2T services can become a “lifestyles” play for both vendors and carriers, particularly after handset prices decrease. That should occur as market demands increase, resulting in economies of scale for vendors and competitive pricing from carriers.

“Push to talk is a simple way to connect, particularly for families,” he said. “If it becomes value priced, parents will be able to afford getting it into the hands of their children.”

Despite the bullishness of Motorola and Kyocera on consumers, the message hasn't been absorbed by the patriarch of the space, Nextel, which still sees push to talk as primarily an enterprise play, according to Rebecca Gertsmark, a spokeswoman for the company. “Our focus is not on the consumer,” she said.

If anything, Nextel is focusing on the public-safety sector, a growing segment that now accounts for 20% of the carrier's new business. Nextel is positioning its P2T service as an adjunct, not replacement service. The advantages to public safety are the interoperability provided by the nationwide Direct Connect offering and the platform's compatibility with Motorola's iDEN infrastructure, which lets dispatchers off-load non-essential voice traffic.

“They see the service as a natural fit. In terms of ease of use and the way the service works, they get it,” said Beverly Hodges, Nextel's senior director of voice services. “They understand that interoperability is the key and very necessary.”

In January, Nextel introduced the Motorola i305, which was billed as the first all-weather phone with Direct Connect functionality. Resistant to extreme temperatures, dust, shock, water and vibration, the handset is targeted to outdoor enthusiasts as well as public-safety and industrial users. But Hodges concedes there's more work to be done.

“There are some feature sets and functionality that do exist on [public safety] land mobile radios, and some of our radios will need to be developed [further] to get to that spec level,” Hodges said. “Some of their radios survive fires.”