T-Mobile US has launched a push-to-talk service aimed at the emergency services, working in conjunction with Motorola Solutions.

No, we haven’t gone back in time by 20 years. This is a mission critical, 5G-based service for a start. But there are strong echoes of the mid-noughties, when those same players – or constituent parts thereof, in T-Mobile’s case – were riding a wave of push-to-talk popularity.

This new offer from T-Mobile is a far cry from those consumer-focused mobile walkie-talkie services though. To use the US mobile operator’s own words, the telco is “taking push to talk to new levels.” What was once PTT is now MCPTT, or mission critical push-to-talk, and is geared towards the needs of first responders, as well as government agencies and businesses working in the field.

It is integrated with Motorola Solutions’ Critical Connect service, which is essentially designed as a hub to allow interoperability between different networks in push-to-talk. As such, it offers users redundancy, resiliency and security, facilitating messaging, emergency alerts, ambient listening and role-based access management.

MCPTT is specifically designed to be used with rugged devices, but it is also available as an app for smartphones and tablets.

T-Mobile US outlined a series of benefits the service will bring when it comes to market in about a month’s time. As usual, it bigged up its 5G coverage. But more specifically to the MCPTT service, it is talking about greater ease and speed of use for administrators; an always on wireless priority service, that means users can always get access when networks are overloaded; greater situational awareness, thanks to video streaming and location sharing; and greater collaboration with other connection types.

Clearly, this is not an old school walkie-talkie service.

T-Mobile has not forgotten its roots though. On the contrary, it is playing on its links with Nextel, once the poster child for push-to-talk in the US. It uses the Nextel brand alongside the portfolio of push-to-talk services on its website, and insists that this legacy gives it additional technological know-how in this space.

The Nextel brand may lend some gravitas, but it’s worth pointing out that the operator’s iconic PTT service was long gone by the time T-Mobile US came on the scene. Nextel merged with Sprint in 2005, a move that proved fairly disastrous for both companies, not least due to the difficulties associated with bringing together two different network technologies. Fast forward a few years and Sprint shut down the Nextel iDEN network in 2013, shortly before its takeover by Japan’s Softbank. T-Mobile US merged with Sprint in 2020.

There has been a lot of water under the bridge in the two decades since Nextel was flying high with push-to-talk, in terms of both business and technology, but this type of coming full circle always brings a certain sense of satisfaction. It’s now up to T-Mobile US to make sure its business customers have the same feeling about MCPTT.

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