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'Push to talk' gets international hookup

Drawing ahead of rivals, Motorola and Nextel look set to make the walkie-talkie feature available for cell phones in countries outside the United States.

Motorola and Nextel Communications look set to make a cell phone walkie-talkie feature called "push to talk" available to dialers internationally, as rivals struggle to launch their own services inside the United States.

On Thursday, Motorola announced that Jordanian carrier Fastlink will be the first company in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region to use push-to-talk (PTT) technology. Fastlink plans to introduce a pilot version of a service similar to Nextel's popular DirectConnect, which creates an instant connection between two cell phones.

In addition, Nextel Mexico, owned by Nextel subsidiary NII Holdings, plans to launch soon its own DirectConnect-like service in Tijuana and in Baja California, Mexico, a source said.

Nextel, which is based in Reston, Va., has been the only company to offer a walkie-talkie option for cell phones in North America for more than a decade. The service uses PTT technology developed by Motorola. In May this year, Nextel CEO Tim Donahue told the audience at a conference that the U.S. wireless carrier had plans to push PTT beyond U.S. borders.

With PTT, callers need only push a single button to connect to another cell phone. It happens in less than a second, as with walkie-talkies. Because there's no time spent dialing or making a connection to a network, calls are shorter and less expensive than usual. It's won favor with corporations with mobile work forces that can benefit from such instant communication.

In North America, Nextel is now facing challenges from U.S. carriers Sprint PCS, Verizon Wireless and AT&T Wireless, which intend to launch copycat PTT services by the end of the year. Pushing PTT outside the United States will provide Nextel and Motorola with an even bigger advantage, Nextel executives have said.