The Push to Talk (PTT) feature - a stroke of genius or flawed by default?

The Push to Talk (PTT) feature - a stroke of genius or flawed by default?

When making use of a VHF Radio, the user must select the PTT (Push to Talk) feature which is normally located on the left side of the handheld radio, or on the outer rim of a fixed radio`s microphone switch, in order to transmit a message to the receiving party. Push-to-talk (PTT) buttons make wireless communication easy. Simply press the visible PTT button to send a communication to your recipient. There is generally a slight delay at the start, so wait for a second or two before talking.

Operators within the Aviation and Marine disciplines for example make use of a VHF Radio to assist them as a voice tool within their daily duties and responsibilities. This utilisation is not however limited to these mentioned disciplines, and extends into other fields such as firefighting, security, surveillance, search and rescue, defence, etc. First time users of any HF, VHF or UHF Radio generally have an unassuming hidden fear to press the PTT and transmit their message. This fear stems from the fact that the user knows that when they select this switch, it automatically progresses to the next stage which is `Push to Talk`, and not `Push to Think`!

Everything else becomes a distant blur once the PTT has been selected, and the user is completely focused on their speech as they recite the transmission, at times for all those `newbies` on frequency with a hesitant anticipation of what to say next. Interesting enough though, the same cannot be said when this same said operator relays similar information over a cellphone. Is it because, unbeknown to them, that they feel more comfortable speaking on a cellphone knowing that only the person on the receiving side is hearing them talk, as opposed to speaking on a radio where there are a number of users on this same frequency at any given stage.

Now as a feature of two-way radios, PTT offers the following advantages over devices such as cell phones:

  • Security is improved because open cell phone networks, which can be vulnerable to security risks, are avoided when two-way radio frequencies are used;
  • Clarity is improved because both the technology itself and PTT protocol require communicators to take turns and communicate clearly;
  • Instant connectivity is at the press of a button, whereas cell phone features are designed more for versatility and convenience;
  • Devices with PTT as part of their physical design are built to withstand the stresses of hazardous and demanding situations.

On the other hand, when compared to communication devices which work similar to WhatsApp, such as CPDLC in Aviation, and DSC in the Marine Industry, the operator no longer needs to speak on the frequency, and instead uses text messaging features as an alternate form of voice correspondence. Safely hidden behind a text message or two, the Operator can now comfortably `say` what they wanted to without the fear of feeling intimidated while doing so.

Let`s also not forget that whoever selects the PTT first while on any selected frequency, has that airwave exclusively to themselves while they transmit their message. Trying to override that person already communicating on the chosen frequency is fruitless, so even if your message is a higher priority at the time of the person already on frequency, its first come first serve in this instance. This becomes a huge problem when the person busy transmitting inadvertently `blocks` the frequency through their own actions.

Consider this: instead of just having a PTT Switch as the initiator for voice communication, why can`t we rather not upgrade to the Next Generation Culture, and have all radios fitted with a message feature adapted to transmit and receive messages at the push of a few buttons so to speak?

These features could include:

  1. Text to Text
  2. Text to Voice
  3. Voice to Artificial Intelligence to Live

Could this alternate form of communication improve liaison while:

  • Allowing the Operator to be relaxed and in control while transmitting in any situation
  • Eliminating the language barrier
  • Ensuring transmissions only need to be broadcasted once, are correct and clearly understood

Using the correct Radio Telephony when broadcasting on a frequency is a challenge to any Operator. If the Industries could come together and consider improving the PTT feature, the origins which date back to last century, could this be a progressive turning point in the safety culture within communications on frequency?

Keen to share your input on this subject, please email