Phones

Group 'Party Line' Comes to BlackBerry, Windows Smartphones

Wouldn't it be great if you could press a button on your smartphone and broadcast to all your friends, or to groups of fellow employees? This kind of push-to-talk communications is now possible using Twisted Pair Solutions' new Wave Connections service.

This hosted offering lets smartphone users sign up, download a small Wave Connections client and then invite other smartphone users to do the same. When they do, all users in the group have instant, push-to-talk access (you designate any button on your phone as the PTT button) with everyone else in the group, sort of like a wireless version of the old telecom "party line" where everyone on the line can hear everyone else.

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Initially, it's for RIM BlackBerry, Microsoft Windows Mobile and Windows CE phone users, with Google Android support on the way, followed by Windows Phone 7.

You can set up your smartphone with more than one group, keeping each group in a separate push-to-talk channel, such as everyone from "marketing" or "public relations" or "northeast sales." This differs from other PTT offerings, such as a BlackBerry one from RIM that can be set up for a person-to-person PTT connection, but not a group and not a group that can also share a channel with land mobile radio users, PC softphone users and the like, says James Mustarde, marketing director for Twisted Pair Solutions of Seattle.

The new offering is the latest extension of Twisted Pair's core Wave technology, which uses radio gateways from Cisco, Raytheon and others to bridge voice communications between radio and IP networks. For more information on the technology, check the Twisted Pair Website and to try out the new PTT service on your smartphone, sign up online.

The Wave server (actually two programs, one for media processing, one for management), working with the radio gateways, secures and manages audio streams from hundreds of devices on radio, IP, and cellular networks. Endpoints, including PCs with softphone software and now mobile devices, install either the Wave Desktop Communicator (available as a Windows application or a browser plugin) or the recently introduced Wave Mobile Communicator for BlackBerry or Windows Mobile phones.

The Wave server defines who among the clients can access a given audio stream and its related data such as texting. The Wave client shows information about the user's authorized groups, and lets you change groups (or "channels" in Wave parlance), IM with group members, record conversations, and, of course, talk.

The mobile Communicator connects to a hosted version of the Wave server, which handles the heavy lifting on behalf of the phone.

"What we do is turn the smartphone into an edge device on this [combined] IP-Wave domain," Mustarde says. "The phone becomes a speaker-microphone: it connects to the cloud via the mobile carrier's data network. Audio is encrypted on the phone, and sent to the Wave cloud. Anyone who's authorized to do so then can pick up this encrypted audio."

The new Wave Connections builds on features of Communicator. It's a way for smartphone users to quickly make use of a hosted PTT service. Currently Twisted Pair handles the hosting, but Mustarde says the company is close to signing a deal with a carrier that plans to offer its own hosted PTT service using the Wave software.

One enterprise user is SAGT, a private container terminal in Sri Lanka with advanced container handling systems. The terminal uses Wave to create interoperable voice communications across a range of devices. The deployment includes 32 Mobile Communicators on smartphones.

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World.

Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnwcoxnww

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