May 20, 2003 1:19 PM PDT

'Push to talk' going global?

Nextel Communications is exploring whether to offer a global version of its popular "push to talk" walkie-talkie feature for cell phones, as rivals work on their own U.S.-centric versions of the technology.

Speaking at the Lehman Brothers Global Wireless 2003 Conference in New York, Nextel Chief Executive Tim Donahue said the carrier might rely on satellites to expand its cell phone network. If so, the company would be among the biggest mergers of cell phone and satellite networks to date.

Nextel is the only wireless carrier to introduce push-to-talk technology, which creates an instant connection between two cell phones. Because there's no time spent dialing or making a connection to the network, the calls are shorter and less expensive. It's become one of Nextel's most important features, representing about 70 percent of the calls over the company's network.

Nextel's push-to-talk service, called DirectConnect, is only available in certain regions of the United States, linking phones within the same region. By August, the service will be able to connect callers anywhere in the United States. Analysts believe the next logical step for Nextel is to make it an international service.

"We are now exploring the opportunity and the capabilities to have a global DirectConnect product," Donahue said during his address.

But a Nextel representative cautioned that a worldwide DirectConnect service is only one of several future developments the company is exploring, and if it ever is developed, it would be offered commercially "way off in the future."

Sprint PCS and Verizon Wireless plan to introduce push-to-talk services, probably sometime in the next few months. But these services are likely to be offered only piecemeal as the carriers work out the kinks. Representatives from both carriers have repeatedly refused to provide additional details about possible push-to-talk offers.


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