October 15, 2006

It's a Push-to-talk thing

The company I work for (bravO) was busy in the past month testing the international push-to-talk service with XPress, Wallahi I don't recall experiencing a truly new mobile service since the first time I sent and received SMS back in 1999.

The mere thought of being able to connect instantly (less than 3mS) with your business associates, friends and family abroad to make instant queries or have a quick chat within a flat-fee subscription is really exciting, though given it's a half-duplex call (you wait for the other party to finish talking before you start) makes it a bit dull for long conversations or intimate ones nonetheless.

We're not used to the concept of radio communication and push-to-talk, expensive licensing & hardware cost coupled with strict governmental control over such equipment (even the civilian ones such as the walkie-talkie) made the very nature of hearing a chirp then a brief talk then a pause to be immediately associated with law enforcement officers and intelligence agents.

No wonder why XPress had a really huge barrier to overcome with its potential customers who despite their dire need for such communication tool, they were reluctant to adapt it, of course there was other issues contributing to XPress sluggish start-up, chiefly the weak coverage & quality of service.

In a business environment, the use of this medium is very efficient in terms of productivity and feasibility, 3 years onward (since XPress launched) I can assure you that once an organization get accustomed & oriented to the instantaneous, immediate worrisome-less fixed-rate nature of the push-to-talk service; they become dependant on it and find it indispensable to them. (more than 50% of registered companies are XPress customers)

That's why the incumbent GSM operator (Fas*tlink) viewed the (then) miniature XPress as a threat from day one, as they were about to cater for a market that's beyond the realm of any counter competitive offering the prior can come up with.

The use of push-to-talk can also be recreational and can generally be adopted by individuals outside the corporate sphere, I for one sat out a trial (with a private agenda) to test how easily mature users can orient themselves with the push-to-talk routine without throwing the handset aside deeming it as devilishly too inconvenient.

So I gave a handset to my aunt in Riyadh and taught her how to call my mother in Jordan, back at head-quarters, I was monitoring the usage (numbers not content), and man did these two women talk using half-duplex telephony… amazing, at best I was barely anticipating that my mother will toss aside the set after a couple of trials.

I myself call my brother, friends and x-colleagues back at XPress regularly, I can't say it a substitute for "normal" calls, if anything it replaces international SMS or even better, it becomes like an IM service available at all times, and as my wife left back to Amman to spend Ramadan with family, the 1-minute mini calls have been eliminated in favour of a quick push-to-talk one along with the ever so entertaining & thunderous unsolicited voice of mine unexpectedly coming out of her handset speaker, one could argue that this is tactless bad sense of practical humour.

Things look bright for XPress, it's sister company bravO here in Saudi as well as the new licence they acquired in Palestine, as businesses recognize the legacy GSM services are inferior to what the system implemented by XPress is capable of offering, but mostly, it’s the short term & long term short term cost effectiveness that seems to underline the most sought out benefit from opting for such a premium service.


Anonymous said...


its great this idea has materialized...I was told of it ever since Xpress started.

Any chances UAE's regulator will auction such licenses in the near future?

Basem said...

Well, UAE's regulatory body have a "digital trunking radio" licence within its framework but the issue as i understand it is in the assignment and availability of frequencies to operate an iDEN network (which is the SMR 800 MHz).

The only chance is for either Itisalat or du be more intuitive and use their weight and influence to modify and acquire the licence and the relevant frequencies and then underlay the network along with its own GSM/3G networks.

the other scenario would be a Dubai heavy-weight Sheikh (money Sheikh that is) to enforce himself with a Dubai (perhaps Abu-Dhabi too) only mini system, very very lucrative and feasible.

3adi said...

Thanks for the nice post Basem, it's sad that xpress is not mentioned as an operator in Jordan, most people tend to say there are 3 operators in Jordan. Xpress (as far as I know from a friend that works there) has less than 50,000 customers, that's really low I guess. And they did lay off some employees I guess. I also heard that Mobilecom wants to introduce push-to-talk soon! I tried xpress and I think it's good for businesses like delivery, transportation, construction etc.

I hope they do well in Palestine, and if they introduce unlimited push-to-talk between the two countries it will be great, and then Fastlink and the rest should really start worrying.

Anonymous said...

I beleive the calls must be initiated from Jordan such that they can be free (or under the flat rate scheme)....is that right?