Can PTT (push to talk) be on the road to a comeback in construction? Known for years as the de facto standard for jobsite communication, you could say PTT has take a bit of a backseat in recent times to more robust devices running on faster networks.

This week AT&T, www.att.com, Dallas, Texas, announced the opportunity to preregister for its ‘Enhanced Push To Talk’ service. Expected to be available this November, AT&T clearly sees opportunity in the PTT market, which was long synonymous with Sprint, www.sprint.com, Reston, Va. But earlier this year the carrier announced it expected to cease operations on its 2G iDEN Nextel National Network, which is the backbone to its PTT technology, as early as June 30, 2013. A quick look at second quarter earnings for Sprint shows the number of its Nextel users dropping to 3.1 million, down from 3.8 in the quarter prior.

To be fair, Sprint still plans to offer PTT via its Sprint Direct Connect. The service was announced late in 2011, and provides broadband data capabilities, push to talk, and rugged handsets.

Verizon Wireless, www.verizonwireless.com, Basking Ridge, N.J., plays in the PTT arena as well. The carrier announced PTT capabilities for the construction industry in 2011, with options that include specific pricing options and capabilities, including group calling, contact management, and two-way communication, among others.

AT&T is coming off of months of customer trials for what it is calling Enhanced PTT, which it says will combine traditional PTT communications, including quick calling and group talking, with more advanced capabilities, such as mobile application integration, smartphone compatibility, and faster connections using 3G and 4G/LTE networks.

In essence, this announcement could combine the best of both worlds for construction users, integrating two-way radio with the capabilities of a wireless broadband handheld computer under a single device.

Describing the benefits of a converged solution for construction, Igor Glubochansky, executive director of AT&T Advanced Mobility Solutions, points to the ability to use one device to group message, wirelessly enter time cards, and even tether to a laptop in order to download drawings. “Given the advent of 3G and 4G/LTE networks, better devices, and the availability of (applications like) GPS, dispatching, etc., it just makes the most sense to upgrade for users.”

He says with PTT on the AT&T roadmap the carrier is focusing on making APIs (application programming interfaces) available to do such things as integrated voice control for dispatching or for scheduling work orders, for example. The possibilities, according to Glubochansky, seem endless.

AT&T says this Enhanced PTT service will support a wide range of mobile devices, including smartphones, feature phones, rugged devices, and specialty devices. However, early access customers are, for the time being, limited to using Samsung Galaxy S III, Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket, Samsung Rugby Smart, BlackBerry Curve 9360, and BlackBerry Bold 9900. Plans, according to AT&T, are to announce additional Enhanced PTT devices as they become available in the coming months.

In addition, the announcement comes at a time when users are looking at an upcoming FCC Narrowbanding Mandate that says by Jan. 1, 2013 all public safety and business industrial land mobile radio systems operating in the 150-512 MHz radio bands must cease operating using 25 kHz efficiency technology, and begin operating using at least 12.5 kHz efficiency technology.

Glubochansky says the announcement from AT&T is relevant in that it can offer a solution to replace existing hardware or to interface with existing private mobile radios, many of which are in use in construction today.

AT&T says it will continue its Enhanced PTT charter program for organizations that still wish to evaluate the solution prior to registering.  Given all that is happening with mobile these days, this announcement could provide a nice balance of both worlds for construction users that still like PTT, but wish to integrate all the value afforded by today’s more robust networks and wireless applications. Time will tell just how successful AT&T will be, and what it means for the future of PTT in construction.