Sprint to shut down Nextel, makes room for new walkie-talkie app

June 24, 2013 8:05:39 PM PDT
This week marks the end of the line for Nextel the cell phone provider known for its walkie-talkie button.

Nextel is now owned by Sprint, which is pulling the plug on June 30. But a Bay Area start-up is hoping to scoop up some of Nextel's customers.

Nextel was the first phone to act like a walkie-talkie, but now Sprint is shutting it down to make room for its new 4G Network.

"Sprint like other carriers needed a lot of spectrum to roll out these 4G LTE services and if they shut Nextel down, that opens up opportunities for 'em," CNET Senior Management Editor Kent German said.

German says there's a new Sprint branded walkie-talkie service that Nextel users can switch to. However, he says it's not as full-featured or as reliable as Nextel.

They still have the big rugged phones for now and they're not selling the way they used to.

"That sort of market's going away. People want a smartphone now. They want it to be a big display, they want it to have all those apps, and making a really rugged smartphone is difficult, not really done," German said.

The fact is, times have changed and Sprint is just trying to change with them. But now that Nextel is being replaced by the smartphone, some businesses are finding they don't need the phone company to give them that walkie-talkie feature. They can just download it from the app store.

Voxer is a free app that turns any iPhone, Android, or soon even a Windows phone into a walkie-talkie.

Staffing firm CCUSA is using it in part because unlike Nextel, Voxer can take a message. Anything you miss is recorded and waiting on your phone.

"It can even go overnight to another country, and if they're on a different time zone, they respond and I get it in the morning," CCUSA manager Mia Sandvoll said.

For San Francisco-based Voxer, that was key to making the old walkie-talkie fit better in a world full of email and text messages.

"It gives you the option either to answer immediately, live, or have it wait." Voxer Chief Operating Officer Itamar Kandel said. "We think about it as the etiquette of text messaging, but the richness of voice."

Just as Nextel shuts down, Voxer is launching a paid app for businesses, with some of the same group talk and GPS features Nextel had.

They don't expect to have any trouble selling it because they say companies are clamoring for it.

"A Fortune 500 company knocks your door down and says I want this product, please give it to me, you take attention and you build what they want," Kandel said.


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