Mobile

Qualcomm prods phone maker into 'push to talk'

Handset maker Kyocera will use Qualcomm's BREWChat software to join the growing number of manufacturers producing cell phones with the popular walkie-talkie feature.

Kyocera Wireless said Tuesday that it has joined the growing number of manufacturers producing cell phones with a walkie-talkie feature known informally as "push to talk."

The phones will make a debut early next year and will be based on a standard popular in the Americas, Korea and parts of Japan, according to a Kyocera Wireless representative. The representative would not disclose what carriers, if any, have agreed to sell the phones.

Kyocera Wireless is entering an increasingly crowded market for handsets that feature push-to-talk features. Motorola has been selling push-to-talk handsets for a decade. Nokia recently introduced its first push-to-talk handset, the 5140, and said all of its phones will feature push to talk by 2005. Sources said handset maker Siemens also intends to introduce push-to-talk phones in the next few months.

"We're not going to be late to the game," a Kyocera Wireless representative said. "This is a very young market."

Push-to-talk phones connect within seconds. Users push a button for the immediate linkup, rather than dialing a telephone number and waiting for someone to answer the call. Only one person can talk at a time, a cost-saving measure that eliminates the dead air of any phone conversation. Up until this year, Nextel Communications was the only carrier to offer push to talk, which has replaced a large portion of the walkie-talkies and pagers formerly used by messengers, delivery employees and other mobile workers.

About 20 carriers worldwide are still considering offering a push-to-talk service. Kyocera Wireless said its phones are meant to appeal to a much broader audience, which U.S. carriers Verizon Wireless and Sprint PCS hope to capture with their push-to-talk services.

Kyocera is not developing its own push-to-talk feature; it's using one provided by Qualcomm, a maker of cell phone chips and software. Kyocera is the first handset maker to plan a commercial release of Qualcomm software called BREWChat, according to Gina Lombardi, senior vice president at Qualcomm. BREWChat is usually delivered over the air to cell phones compatible with Qualcomm's binary runtime environment for wireless (BREW) download software. About a dozen carriers, including Verizon Wireless, sell BREW handsets and downloads.

Lombardi said various handset makers and carriers are now testing BREWChat software. But she did not disclose any customers besides Kyocera Wireless.

Qualcomm's BREWChat software competes for handset-making customers with software from Motorola and Nextel, Togabi, and Kodiak Networks.