Telus Corp. will launch a high-speed “push-to-talk” wireless service in mid-October as it prepares for the eventual shutdown of its legacy network over the coming years.
The new Telus Link service, to be announced on Tuesday, is the long-awaited replacement to the carrier’s existing Mike service, which is based on out-of-date technology. It is being billed as the smartphone subscriber’s answer to the walkie-talkie, allowing users to connect in less than a second.
Much like Mike, Telus Link will be aimed at business customers who require one-touch communication, often in rugged industrial environments such as mines or auto-assembly plants. But the new service will run over Telus’ modern wireless networks, including 4G (fourth-generation) HSPA and LTE, meaning users can run high-speed data applications in addition to making two-way radio or group calls.
That next-generation service will give Telus new leverage in its ongoing rivalry with BCE Inc., which has revamped its own push-to-talk service over the past year.
“It can reach more remote areas and you can get the applications,” said Jim Senko, vice-president of small business solutions at Telus. He said business users are increasingly interested in using work-force management apps or using a wireless data connection, whether cellular or WiFi, to share information among workers.
Questions about the future of Telus’s Mike service, and the IDEN network on which it runs, have lingered since U.S. carrier Sprint shut down its comparable network in late June after migrating its push-to-talk customers to a more modern network that offers broadband data. At the time, Telus began offering its Mike customers alternative options for U.S. roaming.
BCE, meanwhile, saw an opportunity to poach customers. The Montreal-based telco expanded its lineup of rugged push-to-talk devices amid increasing demand. (BCE owns a 15-per-cent stake in The Globe and Mail.)
In September, Telus CEO Darren Entwistle told an investors’ conference that the company’s legacy wireless networks, including IDEN, would eventually be retired – comments that were later echoed by chief financial officer John Gossling.
Although the company has not set an expiration date for its IDEN network, it is telling customers that it plans to “support the Mike service over at least the next couple of years.” Mr. Entwistle has also said that IDEN represents slightly more than 2 per cent of Telus’s 7.7 million wireless subscribers.
The broader push-to-talk market, however, comprises more than a million workers in industries such as oil and gas, transportation, forestry, construction, retail, agriculture and security, according to some estimates.
“It is actually a very large market when you consider how resource-intensive Canada is from an economic point of view,” Mr. Senko said.
Telus also sees the potential for growth among a niche of consumers who want a smartphone with one-touch talk capability. Telus Link works with most smartphone operating systems, such as iOS, Android and BlackBerry 7 (it will soon be supported by BlackBerry 10). Others, especially those who partake in extreme sports, are interested in using rugged handsets on the go.
“There is a consumer lifestyle market now. If you think of skiers, all your kind of X Games-type of people – people who are out and they’re skiing, they’re cross-country biking, they are motocrossing,” Mr. Senko said. “So, we expect to get some of those types of clients as well.”