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Europe Stutters on PTT

Europe’s big-name carriers appear in no hurry to jump on board the push-to-talk (PTT) bandwagon, a strategy at odds with earlier hype surrounding the technology.

PTT allows people to use their phones as walkie-talkies, merely pushing a button to talk to another user or group of users.

In January this year Orange SA (London/Paris: OGE) announced plans to launch a European PTT service in the second quarter of this year. The carrier eventually went live last month, amid media reports of falling subscriber targets (see Orange Pushes Startup, Orange Misses PTT Push, and Orange Pushes 'Nowt').

Orange’s initial announcement caused its rivals to declare an open mind on the launch of their own PTT services. mmO2 plc, in particular, stated it was aiming to launch commercial services “later this year” (see MMO2 Joins PTT Gang).

With year-end fast approaching, mmO2 is unlikely to stick to this timeframe. “We conducted some initial trials with Nokia but no decision has been taken yet,” says its director of communications, David Nicholas.

mmO2’s competitors are adopting a similar approach.

“We are evaluating the service and are in the process of seeing whether it has any commercial potential,” comments Vodafone Group plc's (NYSE: VOD) senior group communications manager, John Earl. “There are no firm plans at the moment for any launch.”

A spokesman for Telecom Italia Mobile SpA (Milan: TIM) says the carrier is “experimenting” with the technology, “but we don’t have anything to announce. It’s possible in the future but it is not part of our program at the moment.”

T-Mobile International AG, meanwhile, is reluctant to disclose whether a planned launch of PTT services in Germany later this year is likely to lead to a European-wide rollout (see Nokia Linked to T-Mobile PTT). “Nothing is confirmed,” says spokesman David Hanney. “It’s a case of watch this space in terms of adoption in other countries.”

Analysts in Europe certainly aren’t overwhelmed by PTT's potential. “It’s an interesting toy that I wouldn’t dismiss completely but it isn’t going to make anyone rich,” opines Ovum Ltd.’s principal wireless analyst, Jeremy Green.

Europe’s relative lack of commitment to date will disappoint those observers eager to see a repeat of the technology’s earlier success across the pond. U.S. carrier Nextel Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: NXTL) claims to generate around 20 percent of its revenue from PTT services.

— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung

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