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Push-to-talk comes to BlackBerry handsets

RIM licenses PTT technology that offers voice mail, call waiting, and allows easy segue to conference calling.

Research In Motion has signed a licensing agreement with wireless-networking specialist Kodiak Networks that will allow the smart-phone manufacturer to support push-to-talk features on its devices.

Cingular Wireless is the first mobile-phone operator to support push-to-talk (PTT) service on , but deals with other carriers should be announced shortly, according to Tim Hall, vice president of strategic alliance for Kodiak Networks. Kodiak's PTT client will also be offered on other BlackBerry devices, he said.

PTT technology essentially converts a cell phone into a long-range walkie-talkie. Users can instantly start talking to another cell phone user who has PTT simply by pushing a button.

Nextel was one of the first carriers to offer this type of platform, but Kodiak says that it will differentiate itself by offering more sophisticated features.

As on most walkie-talkies, most PTT services operate on a single, or half-duplex, channel, which allows only one person to speak at a time. Kodiak offers a feature that allows PTT users to transfer, while in the middle of a PTT call, to a regular duplex-channel cell phone call, allowing all ends of the conversation to be heard simultaneously. One person making the switch from PTT to a regular cell call activates the switchover for everyone else on the call.

Hall believes this feature will be of particular interest to the enterprise market and help expand interest in the PTT phenomenon, from families and teenagers to people conducting conference calls in the business world.

Kodiak's PTT client also allows users to control their availability and check the availability of other users; offers call waiting for both incoming cell and PTT calls while the customer talks via PTT; and distributes voice mail via PTT to a single person or to groups.

RIM reported particularly good third-quarter earnings in late December, noting a revenue increase of 49 percent due to strong demand for its BlackBerry devices.