Sprint officially turned off the Nextel network at 12:01 a.m. on June 30. The network, which had caused so much rage, went quietly into that good night as Sprint Senior VP, Networks, Bob Azzi sent a series of computer codes across the 20,000 remaining towers. Power has been cut to the Nextel network, which still had 1.3 million users, and salvage efforts have begun, recycling the tower materials.
In contrast, five days earlier, Sprint Nextel shareholders overwhelming approved the merger agreement with SoftBank, which spent $16.64 billion for a 78 percent share of the company. And in the span of less than a week Sprint cut loose from Nextel, which had served as anchor, and hitched itself to the company of its future, Softbank.
Nextel was launched 25 years years ago when two Washington lawyers, Morgan O’Brien and Brian McAuley, began amassing frequencies in the 800-MHz band used for two-way radio dispatch. The resulting company, known as FleetCall, would sound the death knell of a service known as specialized mobile radio (SMR) buying up the vast majority of the companies that provided service.
SMR was created by the FCC for site-by-site, licensed, two-way radio companies to serve as third-party providers of trunked dispatch service, but in response to FleetCall’s petitions for blanket licenses in metro areas, the FCC changed the site-by-site licenses to geographic area licenses, which allowed the channels to be used like a cellular system. It was a bellwether for the FCC’s expansion of cellular into other radio services.
FleetCall became Nextel Communications and marketed push-to-talk and direct-dial voice service over Motorola’s iDEN digital radio network to fleets and dispatch customers. Eventually, it became a cellular carrier that marketed to consumers.
Nextel, which had 20 million subscribers, merged with Sprint in 2005 in a transaction worth $36 billion. It is ranked by CIO magazine as one of the worst seven tech mergers in history because of culture clashes between the companies and difficulty fusing Sprint’s CDMA and Nextel’s iDEN networks, which eventually led to the end of the Nextel network last week.