Friday, August 17 , 2018, 10:46 pm | Fair 69º


Andrew Seybold: Nextel Is Leaving Santa Barbara

What you need to know about your next move, and why you have more power than you might think

Nextel, now owned by Sprint, as in Sprint Nextel, is about to pull the plug in Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties as it has in other parts of the nation. Many people in the tricounites have been using Nextel for years because it provides push-to-talk (PTT) walkie-talkie type services as well as full cellular services. Contractors, fleet operators and many in the hospitality industry have chosen Nextel for its PTT capability.

Even so, at some point in 2012 the Nextel service will go away in this area because when Sprint purchased Nextel it was for its spectrum and not for its service. Nextel operates in radio spectrum that is lower than Sprint’s existing spectrum, which means each cell tower can cover a larger area so fewer cell sites are needed to provide the same coverage. In this case, for every one cell site Nextel operates in the area Sprint needs three or four to provide the same coverage so it is, therefore, at a disadvantage with AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

Sprint is working on a plan to replace the Nextel service and build out the cell sites with its own service, which will include voice, text, faster data speeds and, yes, its own flavor of push-to-talk. As you face the issue of Nextel pulling the plug, keep in mind that Sprint is not the only network operator that offers push-to-talk. It might be time to look at all of the options for cellular service if push-to-talk is important to you. Sprint will obviously want to keep its existing Nextel customers and convert them to the Sprint network, but today Verizon offers a push-to-talk service that rivals what Sprint has to offer. Last week, AT&T announced that it is adding push-to-talk over its network.

If you are a Nextel user and push-to-talk is important to you, don’t simply sign up with Sprint because you think it is the only game in town. While I am a consultant in wireless and provide consulting services to many of the companies involved in wireless communications, I never recommend one network over another. Which network you choose to move to will depend on many different things. You should ask your friends what network they use and if they are happy with the coverage. If you travel across the United States you should also talk to people in the cities you visit most because coverage from one network operator will vary from one city than another. If you travel in rural areas you will want to stay with one of the top tier companies that covers the rural areas better.

Which Push-to-Talk to Choose

If you live in the tricounties, you have from one to six months before your Nextel service goes away. Nextel will stop service in Ventura County in early May and then work its way up the coast. Santa Barbara’s changeover will probably be in May or June so you have a few months yet, but it is time to start looking at the options. Sprint will certainly offer you a great deal to stay with it, but Verizon, always looking for new customers, will also be willing to deal. AT&T, the newcomer to push-to-talk, will be hungry for customers that want this feature, as well. Playing them off against each other is a great way to maximize your wireless investment.

My advice to those of you who are Nextel customers:

» Don’t automatically sign up with Sprint. If the company knows you are shopping it will make you a better deal.

» Try before you buy. Tell Sprint, Verizon and AT&T that you want a pair of phones with push-to-talk to try for 30 days. Use them everywhere you need them and see which network’s services best fit your needs and your coverage requirements.

» Make sure that the network you choose has the types of devices you need. Some offer only a limited number of devices and if you think you want to move up to an iPhone or an Android phone make sure that the network you choose offers a variety of devices. They all offer devices designed for more extreme work conditions, but most do not offer push-to-talk on the most popular devices. However, AT&T and the others are preparing to offer a software client for push-to-talk that you can download to enable an iPhone or Android phone so you will have much more flexibility than you had with Nextel.

» Understand that today you cannot use push-to-talk to communicate from one network to another. In a few years you will be able to mix and match your PTT devices between all of the major networks but not today. Today all of your PTT-enabled devices will have to be on the same network.

» Make sure that the system is fast enough for your use. Most are but earlier systems had some delays involved. I use a test. I pretend I am a SWAT commander at a hostage incident and I push the button and say “don’t shoot!” If there is a long delay, the person on the other end will hear “shoot!” Not exactly the outcome you want.

» Get the best deal you can for the service and make sure that as new devices become available, as they will, you won’t have to pay a penalty to upgrade. Because you are a Nextel user you will be coveted by Sprint and the other networks and you can cut a better deal than ever before.

» Remember to research coverage. Asking your friends and business associates about their network and its coverage is a good way to judge which has the best coverage. Try before you buy is another way to ensure you will have the coverage you need, where you need it.

You have time to make a decision. Don’t simply sign up with Sprint because you think it is the only game in town. Instead, explore your options and subscribe to the best deal and best coverage you can find. Push-to-talk, which was once the purview of Nextel only, has gone mainstream. Everyone except T-Mobile and MetroPCS is offering it in this area.

— Santa Barbara resident Andrew Seybold heads Andrew Seybold Inc., which provides consulting, educational and publishing services. Click here for more information.

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