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Nextel, Motorola Extending iDEN's Reach

Nextel Communications Tuesday inched closer to making its Direct Connect function a nationwide experience.

The wireless giant said it is working with Motorola on two technical projects - nearly doubling the voice capacity of Nextel's interconnect network, and expanding the Direct Connect digital walkie-talkie feature to make it possible to conduct two-way radio calls nationwide. Direct Connect is based on Nextel's Integrated Digital Enhanced Network (iDEN) wireless technology.

"We're progressing on schedule, while exceeding our expectations for quality," said Nextel CTO Barry West.

Reston, Va.-based Nextel said it has tested the next phase of Motorola's voice coder software, which it says will nearly double the capacity of the company's wireless interconnect network. iDEN phones are offered by Telus Mobility in Canada and by Nextel in the US. Motorola said it is also working on its own version of an iDEN phone.

Utilizing existing 800 MHz SMR frequencies, iDEN converts the analogue SMR channel to an ESMR digital network. The digital signals, resistant to interference and dropped calls, are more easily manipulated. Developed by Motorola, iDEN is also referred to as a "6:1 voice coder" since it allows six cellular calls to be conducted concurrently over a single radio channel.

The companies said the new technology would be delivered on time in the first quarter of 2003, with third quarter commercial rollout. Coast-to-coast Nationwide Direct Connect is expected to be available to Nextel customers mid year 2003.

To show how far along they've gotten, the two companies publicly-demonstrated the first Direct Connect conversation to span multiple calling areas - from Nextel's engineering facility in McLean, Va., to Motorola's iDEN manufacturing plant in Plantation, Fla., - a distance of more than 1000 miles.

"This cost-effective enhancement to our existing iDEN network brings Nextel what we believe is the most important benefit of 3G technology - voice capacity," said West.

Nextel also said it expects to meet its previous 2002 full-year guidance of approximately 1.9 million net additional subscribers. Currently, 10.1 million (about 90 percent) of Nextel's customers are from the enterprise sector including its core base of market segments including government, construction, distribution, financial, professional services, real estate, field sales and service, and manufacturing.