Kodiak enters push-to-talk market

SAN FRANCISCO (11/10/2003) - On Monday, Kodiak Networks, a startup in the telecommunications industry, will launch the only push-to-talk technology that leverages the wireless carriers' existing voice networks.

The Kodiak system would allow users of most cell phones to upgrade their handsets via a downloadable application and will give carriers the ability to offer push-to-talk nationwide in any area covered by their cellular voice network. For the carrier network, Kodiak uses an Intel Corp. NetStructure ZT 5085 Real-Time Exchange Chassis.

While Kodiak looks to be the fourth telecommunications company to offer a push-to-talk solution, its technology may have some inherent advantages.

Nextel Communications Inc., with about 13 million users, is the primary target of any new entrant into the push-to-talk market. However, Nextel uses a proprietary push-to-talk network developed alongside its voice network and cannot offer roaming between competing voice networks. Nextel also does not have nationwide group conference call capability on its push-to-talk service.

Verizon's entry into what amounts to the instant voice messaging market is layering push-to-talk on top of its 3G data network. Its data network does not have the same coverage area as its voice network.

Sprint is also expected to launch push-to-talk using its data network.

One industry analyst said that the current data network does not offer a good user experience.

"Latency is so bad, it is push-to-talk and wait and wait," said Bob Egan, president of Mobile Competency.

On the other hand, Kodiak is exploiting wireless audio technology that has been refined over the last 15 years. In addition to the higher performance of push-to-talk on the voice network, carriers would be able to offer nationwide group conference calls, roaming on competitor networks, instant upgrade from push-to-talk to a full voice call or conference call, integration between both CDMA 2000 and Wide CDMA networks, call waiting, and user availability as it is now used in instant messaging.

Although the technology is solid and the financial backing is also considered first rate, Egan said that Kodiak still must get carrier buy-in. That job may be easier for the company than most startups because its CEO Craig Farrill is the former CTO of Vodafone and understands the industry and its players from the inside, Egan said.

At launch, Kodiak will support Symbian and Palm operating systems. The Palm Handspring Treo 600 will be one of the first devices to embed the Kodiak client software, according to Farrill.

"We have a relationship with Palm and Kyocera. And because of Symbian we can work on most Nokia handsets," Farrill said.

Egan believes that the Kodiak system offers the kind of usability that will explode in the enterprise in a similar fashion to instant messaging.

"It allows business users to bypass the voice mail system like IM allowed users to bypass e-mail," Egan said.

Pricing is to be determined by the carriers.

Currently, Nextel users must be signed up for a monthly plan of about US$40 in order to have unlimited use of the push-to-talk service bundled in with its voice service at no extra charge; failing that, a user is charged about 10 cents per minute. The nationwide service is a $10 per month premium on top of that.

The first carrier to launch a Kodiak push-to-talk service is expected in the first quarter next year, according to Farrill.

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