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Nextel Begins Nationwide 'Direct Connect' Rollout

Nextel Communications Monday said it has finished Phase One of its nationwide rollout of its Direct Connect service.

The Reston, Va.-based wireless company said its walkie-talkie feature, which is popular with businesses, should be available coast-to-coast by the third quarter of this year. The rollout will let Nextel subscribers have the equivalent of a walkie-talkie conversation with someone 300 to 3,000 miles away. Direct Connect is based on Nextel's Integrated Digital Enhanced Network (iDEN) wireless technology.

Previously, the service had only been available to users talking within their home service area like a city or a metro.

The company said Phase One lets users link with people who reside in the market to which they have traveled. In addition, Nextel said its subscribers would be able to use the Direct Connect feature with other Nextel subscribers who have traveled with them.

The Phase One version of the service is now available in major markets including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Southern California, Southern Nevada, Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia, Florida, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, Delaware, and Pennsylvania. When finished, Nextel will be reaching 197 of the top 200 U.S. markets.

"Nationwide Direct Connect is revolutionizing the way people communicate. It's instant and it's truly long-range," said Barry West, executive vice president and chief technology officer at Nextel. "Phase One essentially gives you local Direct Connect capability wherever you travel. Currently this is available in about half of Nextel's Direct Connect service areas, and all Nextel markets will be provisioned for this by the second quarter of this year."

Nextel said Phase Two will let their customers use the Direct Connect feature to instantly connect with anyone on Nextel's national network, regardless of the sender's or receiver's location.

Helping with the rollout is Motorola , which inked a deal with Nextel to expand its voice coder software with the iDEN network.

Using 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.