Nextel Communications Inc. is taking several steps to strengthen its reputation as a company that caters to the enterprise.
The Reston, Va., company is rolling out a nationwide version of its renowned Direct Connect push-to-talk service, offering new software based on technology from IBM, forging partnerships with enterprise application companies and launching new hardware throughout the year.
Direct Connect, which lets a phone work like a walkie-talkie, is currently available only within a customers local calling area. But that will change this summer. A long-distance Direct Connect service is in beta tests in Boston, Southern California and Florida. It will be widely available in those areas by next month, with service available to more than half of Nextels coverage area by July and throughout the United States by August, officials said.
Nextel plans to offer two pricing options for Nationwide Direct Connect: an unlimited plan for $10 per month or a pay-as-you-go plan for 10 cents a minute.
Mobile workers say a direct connection is simply less of a hassle than a phone call on both ends.
“For certain types of communication, push to talk is particularly useful,” said Christopher Bell, chief technology officer at the People2People Group, in Boston. “When used properly, it has the feel of a less disruptive phone call. I use it especially for quick questions or checking if someone is available.”
The service has been credited for giving the company a higher average revenue per user—$67 last quarter—than its competitors. Other carriers have voiced vague plans to offer their own push-to-talk services, but Nextel officials shrugged off the idea that this might make Nextel lower its prices.
“We dont think so,” said Greg Santoro, vice president of Internet and Wireless Services at Nextel. “We dont think [competitors] can create a service that meets ours.”
In the meantime, Nextel last week announced a new VPN (virtual private network) service based on IBMs WebSphere Everyplace Connection Manager software. The VPN compresses data up to three times faster than previous solutions, Nextel officials said, and uses several encryption standards, including Data Encryption Standard, Triple DES, RC5 and Advanced Encryption Standard.
“It finally brings together encryption and compression,” Santoro said. “It was either/or up until now.”
He added that Nextel is working with several companies that specialize in corporate data applications, especially for creating software designed to run on the BlackBerry 6510, an e-mail/phone/ walkie-talkie device that Research In Motion Ltd. created for Nextels network.
“Were getting traction with people who never thought about using a BlackBerry before,” especially in vertical markets, Santoro said.
To that end, Nextel this month began selling a bar-code scanner attachment for its i88s and i58sr phones.
Symbol Technologies Inc.s PSM20i scanner clips on to the end of the phone. It weighs 1.4 ounces. Users scan the bar codes by pressing the Direct Connect button on the side of the phone and then use a Java-based application to send the information out over the iDEN, or Integrated Digital Enhanced Network.
The scanner requires third-party software from a company such as AirClic Inc. to work properly, officials said.
The scanner attachment will cost $249.
One device Nextel may not be offering in the near future is a phone that offers voice over IP via 802.11 wireless LANs. Although company officials said earlier this year Nextel and Motorola Inc. are testing such a product, Santoro said that the companies test many things and that Nextel has yet to commit to a Wi-Fi phone.