Orange has launched a Push To Talk (PTT) service, dubbed Talk Now, for medium-sized firms. However, Orange has said it will not roll it out to VARs until later in the year.
Talk Now offers subscribers walkie-talkie-style instant connections between multiple handsets, working alongside existing voice and messaging systems.
The technology enables one-to-one and group calling, and can set a user's status, such as busy or offline. Users can also create 'buddy lists' to conference-call up to 10 people at a time.
PTT continues to gain popularity in the US, partly because users are not charged by the minute on most price plans. To begin with, users will be charged for the service in the UK on the same tariff as normal voice calls.
"It provides businesses with an immediate and reliable way to better manage their teams and address their need to share time-critical information quickly and efficiently," said Bernard Ghillebaert, an executive vice-president at Orange, in a statement.
After nine months of European trials, Orange has decided to offer the service only on a promotional tariff through its Orange Business Solutions (OBS) web site, with a roll-out planned for SMEs later in the year if the service proves popular enough.
Alastair Macleod, customer development director at Orange Business Solutions, said: "Talk Now is available initially from OBS for business customers with more than 49 employees.
"At present it will be marketed through Orange retail stores, but there are plans to market through independent retailers for SMEs later in the year."
Stephanie Pittet, an analyst at Gartner, said the service has limited appeal. In an advisory to the analyst firm's clients, she noted that confining the service to business groups helped Orange work around Talk Now's inability to interoperate with other services but limited its market potential.
"Orange's introductory prices are the same as for standard voice calls for up to 10 people receiving voice messages, but other, as-yet-unspecified pricing options are planned," she said.
"Gartner believes Talk Now will not attract much attention until Orange resolves interoperability and pricing issues."
The Treo 600 handset is currently the only device that supports Talk Now, but Orange has claimed Nokia, Alcatel, LG, palmOne and Sagem are all developing compatible devices.
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