Sprint's network-upgrade plan means nightfall for Nextel
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?
| December 7, 2010; 8:15 AM ET
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