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Sprint Pushes Dualmode Talk Button

Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) is gearing up to launch its first dualmode CDMA/iDEN cellphones soon, according to a Sprint VP. The devices could be particularly useful to enterprise users that have long depended on the reliability and range of the walkie-talkie-like push-to-talk (PTT) service on the iDEN network.

Sprint Nextel first talked about dualmode CDMA/iDEN devices when the carriers decided to merge back in December 2004. (See Deal Solves Nextel 3G Dilemma.) Ali Afrashteh, VP of access technologies for Sprint Nextel, said yesterday at the Light Reading Live "Backhaul Strategies for Mobile Operators" show in New York that a "hybrid phone" will be available "very soon."

"It should be a matter of weeks now," he said during his keynote at the show.

Such a device will run voice and data services over Sprint's CDMA network while keeping the PTT VOIP service on the old Nextel proprietary iDEN network. "The Nextel voice experience has been much worse due to the rebanding, so this should really help Sprint," says Ovum Ltd. analyst Roger Entner.

Such a device could also appeal to long-time Nextel users who use the PTT functionality of Nextel phones a lot at work sites. There are plenty of "blue-collar" users that want to hang on to their iDEN phones, as Gary Goerke, information systems manager at Farmington Hills, Mich., real estate firm Ramco-Gershenson Properties Trust, is finding out.

"We're corporately moving to an enterprise wireless voice and data plan, and there is an entire department -- construction and maintenance related -- that has been using Nextel... and doesn't want to lose the flexibility of push-to-talk or the ruggedness of the Motorola/Nextel phones."

This kind of strong enterprise loyalty is part of the reason Sprint wanted to merge with Nextel in the first place and why it and other carriers had been working on PTT systems that worked as effectively as Nextel's even before the buyout. (See Walking, Not Running, to PTT.)

"I might guess it's easier for Sprint to develop a dual-band handset then it is to build out PTT capacity on their CDMA network," speculates Goerke. "They made the investment to acquire Nextel most probably for the customer base, not the technology or network, and it would seem the easiest way to continue the revenue stream would be to take this route."

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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