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iDEN Lets Its Hair Down

Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) and Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) can't be accused of letting their propritary iDEN service go quietly into the cellular night. The pair have just launched the i880 -- a push-to-talk (PTT) phone with modern smartphone features -- that runs over the supposedly outmoded Nextel network.

The $300 i880 combines a 2 megapixel camera and MP3 capabilities with the nationwide walkie-talkie PTT features beloved of enterprises and blue-collar workers. The phone also incorporates GPS tracking and support for Java applications in its sleek Magenta flip-top exterior.

It may seem odd that Motorola and Sprint are introducing a new device to keep pace with features offered by devices that run on much faster CDMA- and GSM-based 3G networks. There is one good reason for the updates, however: The pair still make plenty of revenue from the hardcore business customers that continue to rely on the superior push-to-talk capabilities offered on iDEN.

Both Motorola and Sprint saw disappointing third-quarter earnings, partly caused by iDEN issues. Losing iDEN subscribers is particularly bad news for Sprint because Nextel's customers have traditionally been some of the most high-spending users in the U.S. market. (See Sprint Nextel Struggles Continue and Motorola's Mixed Bag.)

Hence the new phone, which is the cellular equivalent of the business mullet -- "business up front, party in the back."

Many users, however, are looking forward to dual-mode CDMA/iDEN devices from Motorola, expected to appear before the end of the year. These will offer calls and downloads over the faster CDMA network but support push-to-talk over iDEN. (See Sprint Pushes Dualmode Talk Button.)

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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