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India spices up 'push to talk' campaign

Cell phone service provider Hutchison Essar, a division of Orange, becomes the second of the country's wireless companies in a week to start the walkie-talkie style cell phone service.

Cell phone service provider Hutchison Essar, a division of telecommunications giant Orange, on Friday became the second of India's wireless companies in a week to start selling "push to talk," the walkie-talkie style cell phone service.

Hutchison Essar's service, combined with one debuting from Tata Indicom, mark the first time push-to-talk has been offered in the Indian subcontinent and one of the rarer rollouts of the service outside the Western hemisphere.

"India beat everybody in the Eastern hemisphere," said Kyocera Wireless spokeswoman Mary Palmer. Kyocera is supplying about 300,000 push-to-talk phones to Tata Indicom.

Hutchison Essar, which uses the GSM (Global System for Mobile communication) standard, partnered with United States-based Fastmobile to offer the service.

The successes or failures of the push-to-talk offerings will play a large role in determining whether other carriers throughout India offer competitive services, she added.

Push-to-talk technology allows callers to connect to other cell phones with just the push of a single button, similar to a walkie-talkie. Only one person can talk at a time, and there is no need to dial a number. Motorola and U.S. cell phone carrier Nextel Communications introduced the technology about a decade ago. For about eight years, difficulties perfecting such a service and the high price of push-to-talk handsets gave the two companies an almost exclusive hold on the market.

But now, "the button" is spreading globally--mostly because a carrier's cost of adding the service has dropped with the introduction of alternative push-to-talk technologies from Qualcomm, Kodiak Networks and other companies. The price of handsets with the feature also has decreased.

India's carriers are turning to premium offerings such as push-to-talk to differentiate themselves from their competitors, a sign that the largely untapped market is becoming more competitive and customers more cell phone-savvy.

Countries such as India and China, where cell phones are starting to take off, have become a major focus for handset and network equipment vendors. About 47 million of India's 1 billion residents subscribe to a cell phone service. Analysts expect that number to triple to more than 140 million by 2008.