Push Comes to Shove at Nextel

No longer the only push-to-talk service provider in town, Nextel looks to differentiate itself and to woo enterprise customers.

Back when IT was the only push-to-talk game in town, Nextel Communications Inc. could rest on the laurels of the service that lets customers use phones like walkie-talkies.

But now most of the major wireless carriers in the country offer some variation of push-to-talk service. To that end, Nextel this month is introducing new products and services that differentiate it from competitors.

For starters, the Reston, Va., company last week announced a partnership with NII Holdings Inc. and Telus Corp. to create a walkie-talkie service that spans North and South America. The service, International Direct Connect, provides walkie-talkie connections between the United States, Brazil, Argentina and Peru and, separately, between the United States and Canada.

"It spans 7,000 miles," said Greg Santoro, Nextels vice president for Internet and wireless services, who said that more than 90 percent of domestic Nextel customers have added Direct Connect service to their accounts. "And it is instant."

Beyond that, Nextel is expanding its data offerings to woo enterprise customers. "Weve optimized IDEN [Integrated Digital Enhanced Network] to be the best network for handset applications," Santoro said.

Later this month, the company will introduce NextMail, which integrates voice and data on the push-to-talk network. The service lets customers send voice messages as MP3 files embedded in e-mail messages. Officials said the service is geared toward mobile employees who read their e-mail on mobile devices but who find it easier to speak an e-mail reply rather than type it. Subscribers can send a voice message to as many as 30 individuals or groups simultaneously.

The recipient need not be a Nextel subscriber; the only recipient requirements are an e-mail account, a Web browser and Microsoft Windows Media Player. NextMail costs $7.50 per month and is available now.

Nextel also has formed a partnership with Vettro Corp., of New York, and Salesforce.com Inc., of San Francisco, to serve customers who need wireless access to more than just e-mail. The Vettro client sits on the Nextel i730 or Research In Motion Ltd.s BlackBerry 7510 or 6510, giving Nextel customers online and (through synchronization) offline access to Salesforce.com databases.

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