New technology for quick response

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The smaller the better; the quicker the better; the more integrated, the better; how much better can it get? Technology companies cannot afford to look the other way for even a brief moment because a competitor will steal the thunder with something new and better in an equally brief moment.

Some companies are hard to beat when it comes to wireless communications’ services. Nextel Communications Inc., based in Reston, Va., has built the largest guaranteed all-digital wireless network in the United States. In 2001, Nextel introduced the first Java technology-enabled wireless phone systems in the United States. In 2002, BusinessWeek magazine named Tim Donahue, Nextel president and chief executive officer, one of the best managers nationwide.

Nextel serves 293 of the Top-300 U.S. markets, and 95 percent of the Fortune 500 companies use Nextel technology. Nextel subscribers totaled 13.4 million in the first quarter 2004, and, in that same quarter, the company realized a 31-percent increase in revenues ($3.1 billion) from last year.

In June, Nextel introduced a couple of unprecedented new technologies.

What first set Nextel apart from its competitors was its focus on direct-connect technology, also known as the walkie-talkie and two-way radio systems. All of Nextel’s phones are fully integrated with direct-connect capability and individual cellular services, wireless Web access, the availability to download applications and games, e-mail services and two-way text messaging services. The Nextel Motorola i830 is the smallest walkie-talkie phone in North America, complete with wallpapers (background screens), external screens for viewing the caller’s identification and audio caller identification.

On May 4, Nextel launched direct-connect services in Canada, Argentina, Brazil and Peru. In June, Nextel’s direct-connect services became available in Mexico. The International Direct Connect program allows Nextel customers to radio back and forth between the United States and the above countries.

What is the advantage to walkie-talkie, direct-connect services?

In a June news release, Christine Pantoya, vice-president of Nextel’s Desert Mountain area said, “Since the initial launch in May, millions of International Direct Connect calls have been conducted, many of which were from customers in transportation, financial services and manufacturing who conduct business across borders.” In 1992, Nextel was the first cellular provider in the United States to offer digital walkie-talkie service, and today it is the only provider to offer the newly instated international direct-connect, two-way communication service.

Eric Thorson is Nextel’s district manager of sales in Colorado, and he said the use of direct connect services is focused on business-to-business transactions, providing a time-efficiency measure that allows for quick responses. Proving the rapid response action of the direct-connect service, Thorson, during the CSBJ interview, called a Nextel user in Argentina. An alert system factored into the phone first warned the person in Argentina of the incoming call, and, after the alert, there was no ring, just an immediate voice connected to the caller within seconds.

“Two-way radio service is tailored to public sectors, like police departments,” Thorson said. “It’s a vertical market that uses the service. Contractors are big customers – the country’s top-10 homebuilders are Nextel users.” Nextel customers also include the health care, real estate, manufacturing, retail, computer services, hospitality and transportation industries.

In June, Nextel announced another one-of-a-kind service, unique to the universe – NextMail. The NextMail application allows Nextel users to send a voice message to any e-mail recipient – the recipients do not have to be Nextel customers – by simply pressing a button. Nextel uses the instant walkie-talkie voice communication built-in technology to connect to the e-mails. The recipient clicks on the e-mail message and listens to a voice message from the sender. The recipient can send a written reply to the sender, and the sender can immediately pick up the reply on his or her phone. NextMail can also facilitate group e-mails, up to 50 addresses at one time, and Thorson said Nextel customers like it because they can deliver reminder messages to their own e-mail addresses. It’s all about Nextel’s Push to Talk technology, Thorson said.

Although direct-connect service is Nextel’s trademark, Java installed technology enables multiple applications, and GPS capability allows location-enabled applications and services, including phone service real-time directions.

Nextel TeleNav is a portable navigation system available by phone. The phone navigation program delivers audible, explicit turn-by-turn directions and re-routing instructions if someone is lost. The Nextel user speaks into the phone, giving the destination address, and verbal instructions direct the user to the exact address. The audible connection is multi-lingual, and the program is complete with a full-color map that shows up on the screen.

Accessing immediate directions by talking to phone systems is beneficial, but knowing the whereabouts of employers or teenagers is matchless.

An employer, a friend or a parent can track anyone through Nextel’s Mobile Locator system, which is a plus for reigning in the kids and managing service appointments, deliveries and sales calls. The Mobile Locator link with Nextel allows location identification accuracy and real-time location views of one or multiple phones. Thorson said the Mobile Locator application came in handy when a Boston snowplow contractor received complaints about snow-packed roads and untimely service. He tracked his fleet of trucks with the Nextel mobile units and found the snowplow drivers were plowing their families and friends driveways first. “It’s about managing your business,” Thorson said. “The technology offers built in efficiencies.” The capability is among Nextel users only.

Nextel also partnered with BlackBerry to offer the BlackBerry 7510, a handheld computer on-the-go system fully integrated with speakerphone, cellular and wireless Web access. The Nextel BlackBerry 7510 is unlike other handheld computers because of its direct-connect capability.

The two-way, direct-connect capability has an advantage over cellular services in the event of emergencies. Nextel was the only service provider operating in New York City when the September 11 terrorists attacks occurred. Nextel deployed dozens of phones to the city during the aftermath of the 9/11 disaster.

Debra Havins is the public affairs manager for the Nextel west region. She said the capability of the Nextel small phone still boggles her mind. “But the need for more efficiency drives the product design,” Havins said.

Havins and Thorson agreed: When it comes to technology, every second counts – to the customer and the technology leader.

- Editorial@csbj.com