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Nextel Communications
Former type public
Fate acquired
Successor Sprint Nextel Corporation
Founded 1987
Defunct 2005
Headquarters Reston, Virginia
Key people Tim Donahue,
chairman and
chief executive officer
Industry wireless telecommunications
Products wireless services: iDEN, WiDEN, push to talk
Employees 19,000

Nextel Communications, commonly styled NEXTEL, (formerly traded on the NASDAQ: NXTL), now a part of the Sprint Nextel Corporation, was a United States telecommunications firm operating a nationwide push to talk mobile communications system. Unlike other mobile networks, the Nextel network operated in the Specialized Mobile Radio band using iDEN technology from Motorola. Nextel was one of the first providers in the United States to offer a national digital cellular coverage footprint.

Nextel had over twenty million subscribers in the United States, and by 2006 the company said it served 198 of the top 200 markets. Nextel offered prepaid services through the Boost Mobile brand.

Nextel was headquartered in Reston, a community in unincorporated Fairfax County, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C..[1][2]



The predecessor to Nextel, known as FleetCall, was founded in 1987 by Morgan O'Brien, a telecommunication lawyer, and Brian McAuley. The company changed its name to Nextel Communications in 1993. In 1995, wireless industry pioneer Craig McCaw became a significant investor in the company. Mark Warner, now a United States Senator from Virginia, and Jack Markell, the current Governor of Delaware, were also early investors.

The company was originally named FleetCall because it used frequencies designated by the Federal Communications Commission for use in fleet dispatch. The core of the business model was to buy these fleet dispatch frequencies at a substantial discount to the cost for the same bandwidth in designated frequencies set aside and being auctioned for wireless telephone service. These "non-cellular" frequencies were made usable for a consumer and business wireless voice telephone service with the iDEN technology developed by Motorola, which some observers initially said would not be practical. Initially, FleetCall did not want to include the push to talk feature in their phones, but the FCC required it as the initial frequencies were licensed for dispatch use. Subsequently, Nextel used the feature as a key marketing advantage.

Innovations and technologies

Nextel affected the cellular phone market in several ways. It was the first company to successfully provide unlimited calling plans to a large customer base. Nextel was the first company to implement a nationwide push-to-talk system similar to a walkie-talkie, marketed as DirectConnect. Unlike other cellular networks, the Nextel network operated in the Specialized Mobile Radio band, and Nextel was one of the first providers in the United States to offer a national digital cellular coverage footprint. The company was the first in the United States to integrate global positioning system features into their phones and to complete their 2G network upgrade.

Nextel was also an industry leader in customer lifecycle management. They invested significantly in analytics capability, which allowed them to surpass their competitors in handling customer concerns effectively. The company also developed capabilities allowing it to assess and review customer relationship values objectively and to project and respond to customer loyalty. As a result of these efforts, and what was reported to be a strong focus on customer satisfaction across the organization, Nextel was known for industry leading customer retention rates, average revenue per user, and customer lifetime value.



Nextel had long worked closely with a single vendor, Motorola, on both equipment and standards.[citation needed] The close relationship had yielded the Integrated Digital Enhanced Network (iDEN) protocol, which uses a time division multiple access technology. Some of the special features the company utilized included its push-to-talk feature, which simulated the half-duplex operation of a two-way radio. Nextel was one of the few carriers to have adopted iDEN around the world, although the technology has gained traction through NII Holdings in Latin America. As well, iDEN is utilized in the Southeast United States by SouthernLINC Wireless and in Canada by Telus under the Mike Mobile brand.

Push to talk

Nextel gained a significant marketing and technological advantage through its push-to-talk technology. In 2003, Verizon Wireless and Sprint PCS each launched push-to-talk features, with Cingular following in 2005; none have gained significant traction. Nextel and Verizon had entered a legal battle in June 2003 over Verizon's advertising for their push-to-talk feature. The companies reached a settlement in early 2004. Initial advertising for Verizon's service was heavy, but it became almost nonexistent fairly quickly that may have been due to poor reviews of the service.

The push-to-talk feature, with which Nextel has gained popularity, was made interoperable with the QChat technology on the Sprint network in 2008. Sprint had originally launched its own push-to-talk service, known as ReadyLink, which is based on SIP. Due to the difference in technology, users of the ReadyLink service were never able to make or receive push-to-talk calls with users of the iDEN technology. By 2009, Sprint began phasing out QChat to again focus on marketing iDEN devices.

Nextel also offers a feature on some of their phones, marketed as DirectTalk. The technology uses the 900 MHz ISM band and provides ten FHSS channels for off network push to talk communications between individual phones that are not necessarily in range of wireless towers.


In 2003, prior to its merger with Sprint, Nextel had announced plans for its next generation 3G network. It was reportedly to use an extension to iDEN called WiDEN, developed by Motorola. Nextel upgraded their network to support the WiDEN packet data protocol, increasing data speeds up to 90 kbit/s. Currently, the Motorola i465, i850, i860, i870, and i880 are the only phones to support WiDEN without modification. Use of Motorola's RSS software and modifications found at many cell phone forums sites allow users of the i930 and i920 handsets to add the WiDEN service to their phones, which was built into these handsets, but not activated. In October 2005, in order to free up network capacity for cellular calls due to rebanding, Sprint removed the ability to connect to the WiDEN service from all Nextel towers.

Sprint acquisition

Following the acquisition of Nextel by Sprint, future plans for Nextel included migrating iDEN customers to CDMA at some point in the years after the acquisition was completed. The merger closed in late 2005. Initially, there was much speculation that current Nextel subscribers would be required to replace their existing handsets due to incompatibility between the standards used on the separate Nextel and Sprint networks. Sprint initially marketed hybrid devices that operated on both Nextel and Sprint networks, but has since discontinued selling the phones. Sprint also marketed, for a time, Sprint devices utilizing QChat for compatibility with the Nextel push-to-talk network, which was also being phased out by 2009.

All phones on the Nextel network are manufactured by Motorola, Sanyo, and Research In Motion.

Radio interference

Nextel devices in the United States have caused radio interference with municipal government trunked and conventional 800 MHz two-way radio systems. To resolve the problems, Nextel and the Federal Communications Commission developed a plan, approved by the FCC in August 2004,[3] to relocate Nextel systems on certain 800 MHz frequencies to elsewhere in the 800 MHz band in order to reduce the potential for interference. Specifically, systems on the 806-809/851-854 MHz band will initially swap with Nextel frequencies in the 809-814/854-859 MHz band, leaving Nextel the only user in 806-809/851-854 MHz. Then the Nextel use of the 806-809/851-854 MHz band will be swapped with the national public safety use of the 821-824/866-869 MHz band, leaving Nextel with contiguous spectrum in 817-824/862-869 MHz and the business and public safety users in contiguous spectrum at 806-817/851-862 MHz. The use of contiguous spectrum allows for simple filters to be installed to protect the public safety radio systems from interference, which is currently impossible under the existing channelization of the 800 MHz band.

Nextel is paying for much of the cost of this reconfiguration, but in compensation for lost 800 MHz spectrum, the company receiving spectrum in the 2 GHz band at 1910-1915/1990-1995 MHz. The 2 GHz spectrum is near the existing Sprint PCS allocations and can be used to expand the number of channels available for that service, without needing to bid for that additional capacity in a spectrum auction.[4][5][6][7]

Major sponsorships

In 2003, Nextel and stock car racing organizer NASCAR announced a sponsorship agreement by which NASCAR's top racing series would be called the Nextel Cup starting in 2004; the series was formerly the Winston Cup. The series was renamed NASCAR Sprint Cup in 2008, in co-ordinance with Sprint Nextel's announced plans to phase out the Nextel name by 2010. Nextel was also a major sponsor of the now defunct ChampCar team PacWest Racing, which was owned by Craig McCaw's brother Bruce.


  1. ^ "Contact Us." Nextel. August 1, 2001. Retrieved on January 10, 2010.
  2. ^ "Reston CDP, Virginia." U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved on January 10, 2010.
  3. ^
  4. ^ State of Virginia PowerPoint presentation
  5. ^ Luna, Lynette, "Nextel interference debate rages on," Mobile Radio Technology, 1 August 2003.
  6. ^ Davidson, Paul, "Plan to clear the air for police radios hits a snag," U.S.A. Today, 16 June 2003.
  7. ^ Contra Costa County Public Safety Mobile Radio Master Plan, Federal Engineering, Inc., June 18, 2002.

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