By Lisa Johnston
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Start-up Fastmobile contends its hosted Fastchat instant communications service will prosper despite plans by major wireless carriers to join Nextel with their own PTT (push-to-talk) services.
"All the talk about push-to-talk has helped us," said Fastmobile cofounder Harry Eschel. "It gives us more visibility and makes it easier to explain what we offer."
What Fastmobile offers is an over-the-air download of its Fastchat application for Symbian-based GSM/GPRS phones. It has also developed a version for CDMA 1X phones that incorporate the Microsoft Smartphone and Palm 5.0 platforms. Phones using those OSs will be available this fall through U.S. carriers, said Eschel.
A Fastchat app for any phone equipped with the latest versions of BREW and Java is also under development. Those phones could be available late this year in the United States, Eschel said.
Fastchat will proliferate despite the expected growth in PTT competition, Eschel said, because Fastchat offers multiple advantages over carriers' own PTT services. For one thing, Fastchat delivers inter-carrier PTT service. Nextel's nationwide service and other carriers' planned services won't be network-interoperable, he said. In addition, Fastchat service extends worldwide, whereas the other services are confined to the U.S.
Just as important, Fastchat offers instant communications services other than phone-to-phone PTT, he said. Through a unified on-screen menu, the service lets users send instant voice, text, picture and video messages from their Fastchat phone to other Fastchat phones and to PCs equipped with an e-mail address or with MSN instant messaging service, Eschel said. Other IM services will be supported in the future, he noted.
Here's how the these services work:
A Fastchat phone user who receives a Fastchat text, picture or video message from another Fastchat user can open the message and then reply instantly by voice by pressing and holding the phone's designated PTT button, which can be the send button.
PC users who receive a Fastchat message, including a voice message, would receive a Web link via MSN's IM service or via e-mail. The user would then click on the link to download the message from Fastmobile's server. Their reply will be sent to the Fastchat phone as a text message.
Fastchat supports IM presence, enabling Fastchat users and their PC buddies to determine who is online, Eschel noted.
Network interoperability and PC communication will create appeal among consumer users, not just enterprise users, Eschel contended.
"In a family, not every family member is using the same carrier," he noted. The youth market will be interested particularly in instant communications with PC users who have instant messaging service, he added.
Fastmobile is selling the service through its Web site and Handango's site, and in the past two months, it has begun selling through master agents in the Southern California, New York City and Central Florida areas. Sales though master agents will be expanded to other regions in coming months.
Fastmobile is also talking to a national telecom retailer and to carriers, who could offer the service on their Web sites and through carrier-owned stores. In the case of AT&T, Fastmobile would like to bill users through AT&T's phone bills. Eschel said.
Dealers who sell Fastchat could opt to share monthly revenues (from 15 to 25 percent). If a subscriber signs a one-year contract, the dealer could opt instead for an up-front commission.
Co-op ad funds and training are also available, and POP materials were due by the end of August.
Fastchat uses voice-over-IP technology to deliver voice PTT via a phone's data channels. Latency is three to four seconds compared to Nextel's one second, Fastmobile said. Other carriers' future PTT services face latencies up to three seconds, depending on the technology they implement.
The service is available for $9.95/month for month-to-month service, but the cost falls with six- and 12-month contracts.
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