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Ron Alalouff is a journalist specialising in the fire and security markets, and a former editor of websites and magazines in the same fields.
October 3, 2022


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Critical communications

A guide to Push-to-talk technology – What is it and how can it support security teams?

Push-to-talk (PTT) is becoming the go-to technology for security teams and others needing efficient and flexible voice and data communications. Here’s our short guide to the technology.

What is Push-to-talk?

PTT is essentially a system of communication where many people can talk and listen in a group, but only one person can talk at any one time to others. PTT has its origins in two-way land mobile radios which usually featured a ‘push-to-talk’ button.

The concept now features in wireless cellular phone services, where a button is used to switch a device from audio reception to audio transmission ­– from full duplex mode, where two parties can hear and talk to each other simultaneously ­– to half duplex mode, where only one party can speak at a time.


Image: StephanieHarland/AlamyStock

How is Push-to-talk made available?

PTT services can be made available through bespoke platforms which utilise cellular, WiFi and broadband to connect teams across devices and locations. The advantages of cellular PTT is that it provides potentially unlimited coverage compared to conventional two-way radio, and is available using existing cellular networks such as EE, O2 and Vodafone in the UK. By utilising cellular networks, devices can be tracked in real-time using GPS tracking.

The highly developed cellular phone infrastructure available in most countries has made push-to-talk over cellular (PoC) an efficient and cost-effective means of communication. It is also flexible, in that where there is a poor cellular signal, PTT phones can remain connected using Wi-Fi. PTT devices also substantially reduce interoperability issues that exist between land mobile radio devices and their networks.

What are PTT devices?

Both handheld and mobile devices are available with display or non-display options, and licenses are available for different features. PoC also supports video and text, and can be used as a conventional cellular phone. In addition, PTT phones have access to a host of apps, group messaging, email, location sharing and camera functions. Some devices resemble regular smartphones, while others come ruggedised with the look and feel of a conventional ‘walkie talkie’.

The advantage of phones with physical PTT buttons – which are usually located on the devices’ edge – are instant voice communication without needing to access the screen, though conventional smartphones can be installed with PTT apps. Devices can also include tablets, laptop and desktop computers, the latter tending to be used by office-based dispatchers or control staff.

How does Push-to-talk help security teams?

Push-to-talk has enabled security teams to replace two-way radios with flexible and highly reliable communications options. Security personnel can join preset channels to communicate with other officers or their supervisors, while supervisors can monitor and control officers and activate emergency channels summoning them all at once. If personnel are using guard tour systems, these will often have PTT as a feature. PTT can offer emergency and safety features such as emergency call, man down and lone worker.

In addition, location services give managers situational awareness of staff location and preparedness, improving oversight and decision-making. Being digital, data can be saved, reviewed, analysed and reported on, increasing accountability and providing a feedback loop to improve working practices and team efficiency.

Push-to-talk and public safety/first responders

As with security team implementations, PTT comes into its own with public safety users and first responders. They can use PTT devices in similar ways to their previously familiar traditional radios, so training can be focussed on learning to use enhanced features and new capabilities. In addition, devices can seamlessly be integrated with public safety applications, such as computer-aided dispatch and electronic patient care reporting.

What PTT accessories are available?

Accessories such as headsets, speaker mics and earpieces all make it easier and safer to use PTT communications. They can help to increase safety for drivers, enable discreet communication, reduce distracting noise in public areas and hear messages more clearly in loud environments, such as manufacturing plants.

Other applications

  • Logistics: Logistics managers can connect directly to their dispatch department for updates on vehicle locations, and view real-time vehicle locations on an interactive map.
  • Manufacturing: Managers can connect directly to the factory floor to help troubleshoot any problems. Technicians can use the camera on the device to livestream video or send images of any issues with machinery or the manufacturing process.
  • Utilities: Managers are able to monitor the progress of infrastructure repairs, such as to power cables or water pipes, and maintain contact with field engineers.
  • Entertainment and hospitality: PTT can be used to provide discreet communication between front of house staff and back office staff.

Traditional physical security vendors have been seen focusing on push-to-talk communications technology with business acquisitions. For example, Motorola Solutions acquired national digital radio service provider TETRA Ireland Communications in June 2022, while IDIS acquired KT Powertel to “extend secure mobile communications and IoT capabilities” in February 2021.


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