A retail store associate wears a BlueParrott headset
By Your Edge Blog Team | August 03, 2020

Your Wish is Our (Voice) Command: Hands-Free Push-to-Talk (PTT) Calling Now Available on All Android™ Devices…Including Zebra’s!

We’ve fully integrated Zebra’s Workforce Connect PTT Pro with BlueParrott headsets so that your workers can instantly call each other without having to pick up a device.

Over the last decade, nearly every industry been impacted by the emergence of the ‘on-demand economy.’ The need for greater operational speed and efficiency has driven organizations to seek new ways to connect the physical and digital worlds in order to increase their enterprise intelligence – to be able to sense, analyse and act on both opportunities and issues in real time. In this vein, there has been a push to implement technology solutions that facilitate collaborative mobile workflows at the edge of the enterprise. Handheld mobile computers and tablets have become like fifth appendages for mobile workers, bringing automated data capture and real-time communications tools to the forefront of business modernization efforts.

And though we’ve seen an increasing trend toward texting versus talking on mobile devices in our personal lives, and an uptick in the availability of workplace messaging apps, voice communications still remain the best way for many mobile workers to collaborate.

There’s just one problem, though: grocery store associates, warehouse workers, delivery drivers, healthcare providers, first responders, utility technicians and other highly mobile workers tend to have their hands full most of the day. So, literally having to pick up a mobile device to make a call can prove difficult and even dangerous.

That’s why Zebra has been working so diligently with BlueParrott these last several months to integrate our Workforce Connect Push-to-Talk (PTT) Pro solution with BlueParrott’s headsets.

Your workers need a safe, hands-free way to talk with one another while driving, picking items off warehouse shelves, picking up parcels for shipping, tending to patients and conducting other tasks while on the move. They also need a way to alert you if there’s an emergency, particularly if they’re working alone in the field. They may not be able to reach their phones to make calls.

The good news is that, together with BlueParrott, we have found a way to turn PTT calling into a fully hands-free experience!

With the single push of a button on their BlueParrott headset (also known as the Parrott Button™), your lone workers now have a way to communicate via Workforce Connect PTT Pro without taking out their devices, for example, to report a “man down” situation. And all workers have a way to collaborate and coordinate with one another in real time to ensure operational continuity and minimize downtime.

Even better, this hands-free solution works on any consumer or rugged enterprise-grade Android™ device. So, whether you give your workers Zebra handheld mobile computers or tablets or tell them to “bring your own device” (BYOD) to work, they can connect to the Workforce Connect PTT Pro solution powered by Zebra Savanna™ via their BlueParrott headsets to keep working while they talk – or keep talking while they work.

Eager to Learn More?

We connected (no pun intended) with EMEA Regional Product Manager for Zebra’s Intelligent Edge Solutions, Alex Fryer, to get the full scoop on this new PTT solution. He explains how it is different from other PTT technologies you might be using today and why it is something that you need to strongly consider investing in for all of your mobile workers, not just those in field-based jobs.


Your Edge Blog Team: How would you describe the new Zebra and BlueParrott hands-free PTT solution in simple terms?

Alex: Workers can now take an Android device (it could be a personal smartphone or an employer-issued rugged enterprise-grade mobile computer or tablet), download Workforce Connect PTT Pro onto that device (or login if they already have it), sync the device over Bluetooth® with a BlueParrott headset and then stow their Android devices in a pocket, on their wrists or even in a vehicle for the rest of the shift. Once the Android device is synced with the BlueParrott headset and the worker is logged into Workforce Connect PTT Pro, he or she has the means to initiate or end voice calls with colleagues using just the headset. There is no longer a need to handle the Android device for voice communications purposes. They could be completely hands-free all shift long if they wanted.

Your Edge Blog Team: Of course, they may need to pick up their devices to scan a barcode, retrieve a service record or complete a report, right?

Alex: Yes, of course. But they no longer have to keep the device in hand when talking with colleagues, and that’s huge! Think about how often the average retail, warehouse, transportation, logistics, healthcare, public safety, utility or energy worker is coordinating actions with other team members in the course of the day. Can you imagine how much more productive workers could be if they could just put down their devices but still carry on a conversation about the tasks at hand?

Your Edge Blog Team: Since Zebra’s Workforce Connect PTT Pro solution is technically compatible with a lot of different headsets, hasn’t it always allowed for hands-free communications? What do organizations and workers gain by using BlueParrott headsets with this PTT solution versus the ones they’re already using now?

Alex: Though it’s true that Workforce Connect PTT Pro users can technically use a number of different headsets from various manufacturers to communicate versus, say, the speakerphone on their devices, the call itself would still have to be initiated and ended on the Android device when using those headsets. Meaning, a worker still must stop what he or she is doing, pull out the phone or tablet, find the contact(s) and make the call. When the call is over, a worker must once again stop what he or she is doing to pull out the Android device and hang up. That can be quite disruptive when you think about how many times the average mobile worker is communicating with colleagues throughout the day.

So, the benefit of using the BlueParrott headsets is that you eliminate the need to have to touch that Android smartphone or tablet in order to make or receive calls. Once you sync your Workforce Connect PTT Pro-equipped device with a BlueParrott headset, all call-related actions are handled exclusively via the headset.

A screenshot of how the hands-free Workforce Connect PTT solution works with BlueParrott headsets

You simply push a button on your headset and, using only voice commands, tell Workforce Connect PTT Pro who to call (e.g. “talk to Sara”). If the call recipient is also wearing a BlueParrott headset, he or she doesn’t even have to push a button to answer the call or respond. The next time either person has to touch any piece of technology is to end the call and, even then, it is done solely by pushing a button on the headset. All the while, both parties can continue to operate their forklifts, carry boxes, load pallets, fix a power transformer, issue parking tickets or collect specimens from a patient.

The Workforce Connect PTT Pro solution, in combination with BlueParrott headsets, is the only enterprise-grade PTT solution that allows for near-instant and totally hands-free voice communications and collaboration, which is become ever more critical in today’s fast-paced and safety-centric work environments.

A screenshot of how the hands-free Workforce Connect PTT solution works with BlueParrott headsets

Your Edge Blog Team: Essentially, then, this new hands-free PTT Pro solution works a lot like a hands-free calling system that you would see in a vehicle. Is that right?

Alex: Yes. Much like an in-vehicle hands-free voice system, you push a button to trigger a voice prompt and tell the system who you want to call. You may have to confirm your command – “talk to Alex” – and then the system connects the call. And, just like in the vehicle, you would just push a single button to accept a call. Except, instead of pushing a button on your steering wheel, you’re pushing it on the headset. Your Android device could stay out of sight/out of reach the whole time and the call would still go through seamlessly.

In both instances, users can keep their eyes up and tuned into their surroundings versus having to look down at a device screen, even if just for a second to start or end the call, and their hands remain free the whole time. Both hands can stay on the steering wheel or be used to push a cart or pick items or operate a machine. It’s really a win-win from an efficiency and safety perspective.

The one difference between the in-vehicle hands-free system and Zebra’s new hands-free PTT Pro offering with BlueParrott is that our solution doesn’t keep users tethered to a vehicle or, really, any one place.

Your Edge Blog Team: What do you mean by that?

Alex: Since the BlueParrott headsets work over both Wi-Fi and cellular networks, they don’t require users to stay within a certain range of an installed base station like many digital enhanced cordless telecommunications – or “dect” – solutions do. If a customer service associate at a home improvement store is wearing a BlueParrott headset synced with the PTT Pro-enabled mobile device, he or she could push a button on the headset to “call” a delivery driver who is also wearing a PTT Pro-synced BlueParrott headset to notify him that a customer won’t be available in the assigned delivery window and re-route the driver to an alternate next stop. Even though the store associate initiated the call over a Wi-Fi network and the delivery driver was only connected via the cellular network at the time because he was 20 kilometres away, the PTT Pro call still went through. All employees are therefore able to collaborate regardless of their location, indoors or outdoors.

When you use headsets that get their network connectivity via a base station, the user loses that PTT capability the second they step out of range. In many cases, such wireless headset dect solutions can only reach within the building and may struggle through thick walls. They also could require additional investment in ‘repeater’ devices to strengthen the dect infrastructure, which requires organizations to make even more unnecessary investments. Our solution, on the other hand, can connect colleagues who may physically be hundreds of kilometres away from one another. This solution doesn’t limit their collaboration capabilities. Users will always be able to reach the right person in real time.

Your Edge Blog Team: Given the fact that the Workforce Connect PTT Pro app can be loaded onto any Android device – it’s not something that is exclusive to Zebra devices – and the fact that it can sync with any BlueParrott wireless headset to create a hands-free calling solution, it sounds like this is something that could very quickly and easily be deployed by organizations. Is that true?

Alex: Absolutely. In fact, as the BlueParrott team recently confirmed to us, the Zebra Workforce Connect integration is their only enterprise PTT plus voice calling integration that works without anything special having to be done to the headset or via the BlueParrott companion app. The user just needs to download the Workforce Connect PTT Pro application, connect their Android device to the BlueParrott headset and then have access to the full functionality. No other infrastructure or software is required! That is a significant benefit to organizations with limited resources or that want to get this online quickly. Of course, our support team is always on standby to answer any questions or help guide users through the process, if needed.

Your Edge Blog Team: If someone wanted to use this hands-free PTT solution for dispatch purposes or to help with routing for delivery drivers, field service technicians or even first responders, would they need to equip dispatchers or call center staff with mobile devices that had the Workforce Connect PTT Pro client?

Alex: We actually offer a Workforce Connect PTT Pro desktop client that allows users to connect their BlueParrott headset to their laptops or desktop computers so that they can maintain two-way communications with field-based teams via PTT voice communications. To be honest, this solution is beneficial for any organization with geographically-disparate teams, regardless of whether they work inside or outside the four walls.

Your Edge Blog Team: To that point, it seems like the hands-free PTT capability could be very beneficial to many different types of workers and across many workflows. Who do you think stands to benefit the most from this new Zebra and BlueParrott integration, beyond those in a dispatch environment as we just discussed?

Alex: Well, in a retail setting, a front-of-house associate could call someone in the stockroom to check on inventory availability for a customer without having to leave the customer’s side. That associate could even contact colleagues in other area stores to inquire about an item’s availability and ask them to hold it for the customer. Alternatively, an associate managing curbside or buy online, pickup in store (BOPIS) fulfillment could use the hands-free solution to coordinate customer arrivals and fulfillment while loading another customer’s trunk.

Of course, any time you have workers picking, packing, loading or receiving items in a manufacturing, warehousing, distribution or retail facility, there is a need for hands-free communications solutions. That’s why wearables are so popular. However, unlike many other wearables, these BlueParrott headsets have tremendous noise cancelling capabilities. That leads to a significantly better call quality, which helps to reduce the risk of miscommunications.

Your Edge Blog Team: We would imagine that healthcare teams that rely on PTT to coordinate patient movements and care from intake and triage to diagnostic and treatment processes and even discharge will find a hands-free solution beneficial for many of the same reasons. Perhaps even utility, energy, government or telco workers. Would you agree?

Alex: Without a doubt. Healthcare providers could consult with other care team members, including those who may be off site, in real time while continuing to check a patient’s vitals or administer treatments. They wouldn’t have to stop what they were doing to get out their phone from under that PPE and make that call since their hands would be free to attend to the patient’s needs. Or, say an alarm went off in a patient room, the nurse could receive that notification automatically via the headset and, while running to the patient’s room, quickly tap a button on the headset to call for a doctor or other care team members to assist. If they needed to start CPR or employ a crash cart, for example, the nurse could continue to consult with a doctor while keeping both hands on the patient or equipment and the Android device safely tucked away in a pocket.

Similarly, equipment installers and maintainers will benefit greatly from being able to call a colleague or supervisor on the spot to ask for help troubleshooting or fixing issues. With both hands free to work on the equipment and the headset close to the ear and mouth, this hands-free solution allows for crystal clear communications.

Of course, anyone who spends a good deal of time on the road – whether they are delivery drivers, first responders or heavy machinery operators – could benefit from a safe hands-free, noise cancelling PTT solution that helps them maintain that constant connection to colleagues both in and out of the vehicle.

Your Edge Blog Team: Are there any other benefits of this new hands-free PTT solution that we haven’t covered yet that organizations should be aware of when deciding whether or not to switch to the Workforce Connect PTT Pro solution and/or the BlueParrott headsets?

Alex: Of course, the biggest benefit is that your workers are able to keep their hands free and their eyes up at all times, which helps them operate more efficiently and more safely, regardless of their job. Then there’s the improved call quality thanks to the noise-cancelling feature of the headsets, which allows for more effective collaborations in noisy indoor environments such as factories, hospitals, retail stores, as well as in the field.

However, I want to point out there is also a personal safety benefit to this solution. Since most of the BlueParrott headset portfolio can be charged by using either a standard microUSB or USB-C cable, organizations could technically issue a headset to each worker versus having to manage a shared device pool. The worker would take the BlueParrott headset home and then bring it back in the next day, similar to how a company-issued phone or laptop would be the responsibility of each worker. Since you’re asking workers to “bring your own headset” (BYOH) model, these devices are exclusively handled and used by the assigned individuals and, thus, don’t pose the same risk for contagion spread between colleagues as shared headsets. The hands-free PTT calling also reduces the number of Android device touches, which can also help to mitigate the spread of viruses such as COVID-19 via device surfaces. Of course, stringent cleaning processes still need to be followed for all headset and Android devices as they are still being touched by workers. But minimizing the use of shared devices helps to reduce the risk of employees passing germs to one another unnecessarily.

Finally, a hands-free PTT solution can help protect the “host” Android mobile devices from accidental damage. Remember, the Zebra Workforce Connect PTT Pro app and BlueParrott headsets can be used with any Android device, including consumer-grade smartphones. So, if your organization has a BYOD policy, it is likely that their devices don’t have the same tolerance to accidental drops, bumps, spills or other hazards as enterprise-grade rugged mobile devices, such as the ones Zebra offers. The more they have to keep that personal device in hand while working, the more likely they are to accidentally damage it, especially if they are trying to multi-task while talking with the device in hand. If that device gets dropped and goes offline, so does that person’s business system access and workflow applications. By giving them a hands-free PTT option, you’re enabling them to protect that device which, in turn, protects their productivity.

Your Edge Blog Team: Where can people go to learn more about this new hands-free enterprise PTT solution? Is there a website or someone in particular they should call?

Alex: The Zebra team recently hosted a webinar with BlueParrott to introduce this solution to customers and our other partners, so we’ve made those slides publicly available for replay here. As always, they can contact the Zebra team here to learn more about how hands-free PTT could best be maximized within their work environments or to start the process of rolling out this solution to their workers.


Related Resources:

Energy and Utilities, Healthcare, Manufacturing, Warehouse and Distribution, Transportation and Logistics, Retail, Field Operations, Hospitality, Public Sector,
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