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Posted at 8:15 AM ET, 12/ 7/2010

Sprint's network-upgrade plan means nightfall for Nextel

By Rob Pegoraro

Sprint announced a wide-ranging plan Monday to consolidate and merge its current wireless services. This "Network Vision" strategy, if it works as intended, should bring better 4G coverage--making it easier to switch today's WiMax technology to the same LTE standard that Verizon just launched--and better returns for its investors.


But along the way, the Overland Park, Kan., firm will finally hang up on one of the older telecom names around Washington: Nextel. Sprint plans to launch a "next-generation" version of Nextel's push-to-talk service in 2011 on its CDMA network, then begin phasing out Nextel's aging iDEN service in 2013.

By 2015, Nextel should be gone from the market. Sprint says it has "no immediate plans to force migrate customers" off Nextel, wrote spokesman John Taylor--though it's hard to imagine who would want to cling to a service with a limited network and no mobile-broadband option.

If you haven't spent time around a construction site lately, the name Nextel may not ring a bell. That's understandable--Nextel hasn't been too relevant since the 2005 merger with Sprint that sent both companies into a tailspin.

(Sprint publicists were much happier Monday to cite a new Consumer Reports survey showing the company tied with Verizon for overall customer satisfaction after years of poor ratings. This time around, AT&T wound up in CR's doghouse.)

But prior to that ill-fated union, Reston-based Nextel counted as a local telecom success story. Its bulky but sturdy phones (the first that I remember including speakerphones), its walkie-talkie push-to-talk feature (heralded by a distinctive chirp) and its sometimes-quirky pricing, helped set it apart from other carriers and gave it a particularly loyal customer base.

You can also credit--or, if you wish, blame--Nextel for the subsequent career of Mark Warner. Years before he got into state Democratic politics, served one term as Virginia's governor and then was elected to the Senate in 2006, Warner was one of its first investors.

(A lesser-known Nextel employee: My wife, who worked in the company's IT department from 2001 to 2005. I had a Verizon Wireless phone at the time.)

It's customary in tech obituaries of this sort to invite the remaining users of the departing service, software or hardware to share their memories. But is anybody reading this still using Nextel? If so, I'd like to hear from you--what's kept you around?

By Rob Pegoraro  | December 7, 2010; 8:15 AM ET
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I worked for Nextel from 1998 to 2005. The biggest thing that I'll remember the most was the day the pentagon was attacked and all other wireless carrier services were out.

Though their phone services may have been somewhat affected that day, their two way radio services worked like a charm.

This goes to show that technology isn't so forgiving these days, regardless of the circumstances that may have catapulted it to stardom in it's heyday.

Thanks to Morgan O'Brien & Dan McAuley, there wouldn't have been a Nextel to help shape and change the landscape of wireless telecom as we know it today.

Posted by: dabmeister | December 7, 2010 10:54 AM | Report abuse

As a former telecom employee, I loved that Nextel phones allowed such quick access to my team members deployed in the field. What I won't miss is that gawd-awful chirping sound that made every trip to Giant, Home Depot or Costco sound like a hike through the world's most annoying bird sanctuary.

Posted by: telecomic | December 7, 2010 11:09 AM | Report abuse

We use Nextel at our trucking firm. Each truck driver, we have about thirty, has a unit. Truck drivers get used to talking a lot on their two way CB radios. So, usually when we get a driver on the Nextel they tend to keep on talking. Meanwhile management is unheard, yelling at them to shut up. I think it is hilarious to watch the arrogant manager yell at the phone and the guy at the other end not hear a thing and keep right on talking. The manager has no choice but to keep on listening to the superfluous crap that comes out of the speaker.

Posted by: claibst | December 7, 2010 4:27 PM | Report abuse

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