Want to add walkie-talkie capabilities to your wireless phone? It's now as easy as downloading the latest ringtone or game to your handset, thanks to today's nationwide U.S. launch of fastmobile's fastchat instant communications service.
With fastchat, U.S. wireless subscribers can now access a walkie-talkie like feature usable across different mobile networks, technologies, carriers and handsets as well as across cities, states, countries and continents. Users can install this highly intuitive application within minutes via a simple download to their off-the-shelf mobile phones -- and can instantly communicate with other wireless fastchat users across the globe.
fastchat is available today to consumers nationwide through the Web site of software publisher Handango, www.handango.com; or by signing up directly at the fastchat homepage, www.fastchat.com. fastmobile will also promote and sell fastchat in partnership with distributors of mobile phone services and applications, including retail and online shops. fastchat will be available in retail stores in Southern California and Florida immediately and will be rolling out to markets nationwide soon. These retailers can either load the application for the subscriber via infrared or it can be downloaded over the mobile network directly to the subscriber's handset.
Beyond Just A Digital Walkie-Talkie
But fastchat is much more than just push-to-talk. With fastchat, subscribers can also send and receive instant text messages, picture messages, short messaging services (SMS), PC-based instant messages and email, both between mobile phones or between mobile phones and PCs globally. With a monthly fastchat service subscription, users receive unlimited walkie-talkie, picture and text messaging for $9.95/month (excluding a carrier's mobile Internet service fees).
"Forget everything that you know about push-to-talk, instant messaging, wireless text messaging or multimedia messaging services. Those are yesterday's one-dimensional way of looking at instant wireless communications," said fastmobile co-founder and CEO Kang Lee. "fastmobile's fastchat combines the best of the Internet, instant messaging and walkie-talkies and bundles them into one amazing service."
Using fastchat's presence management feature, users can see when their friends or colleagues are "online" or "offline." Even when offline, users will never miss a text or picture message because they are stored by the service and will be sent to the user immediately when the user signs back in. fastchat allows users to chat/text/pix with others either individually or among nearly any size group of their contacts.
Using fastchat's private group communications capability, users can "broadcast" a message using a variety of different formats -- including push-to-talk, SMS, photo and instant messaging (IM) -- to a large group of friends or colleagues as part of the same group conversation and then continue to converse with those friends using a variety of communication formats.
This means that with fastchat, the subscriber is never bound to a particular mode of interaction, making fastchat the first wireless service to deliver true "multi-modality" -- or the ability to switch between different modes of communication such as text and voice within the same exchange. For example, a subscriber can reply to a text message with speech or text and pictures, etc. Communication is also not limited to just wireless subscribers with certain phone models -- those with legacy phones or those using IM services such as MSN Instant Messaging on their computers can also be included in the discussion circle.
"As we know based on the wireless industry's experience with SMS, adoption of messaging services only takes off when interoperability is available. fastchat knocks down the interoperability barrier by enabling users to send and receive messages to and from subscribers of any carrier using any technology via a variety of different modes of communication," said Harry Eschel, fastmobile co-founder and vice president. "By encouraging subscribers to add push-to-talk to their messaging service portfolio, wireless carriers can increase average revenue per user (ARPU) and drive usage of their 2.5G and 3G networks."
Available nationwide initially on GSM networks, fastchat service will be extended to CDMA networks in the second half of 2003. fastchat will also give consumers a wide selection of handset styles and manufacturers to choose from. First available on standard Symbian handsets, fastchat will launch on the Nokia 3650 and Sony Ericsson P800 and will be immediately available on the upcoming Symbian handsets announced by manufacturers that include Siemens, Samsung and Sendo. In the second half of the year, fastchat will be extended to include suitable BREW and Java handsets, adding manufacturers such as Motorola and LG to the line up of mobile phone choices that fastchat consumers will have.
"fastmobile has broken all the rules with fastchat, and mobile consumers win big because of the freedom fastchat offers," said Victor Chapron, a Cingular Wireless master agent and one of the first agents to bring fastchat into mobile phone stores. "Now my customers have advanced services, including a walkie-talkie and picture messaging that work across networks, even worldwide."
The technology behind fastchat has been under development for nearly three years and is currently available commercially or is being trialed in the United States, Europe and Asia. Unlike other push-to-talk technologies, the fastchat solution does not require carriers to deploy any special infrastructure in their networks nor does it require customization to the handsets.
The fastmobile technology also minimizes one big concern for push-to-talk networks: latency. To reduce over-the-air latency, fastmobile has developed an efficient messaging format that decreases the amount of data that must be transmitted over the air -- enabling fast and efficient delivery of push-to-talk communications.