Sprint/Nextel iDen Shutdown and CDMA Migration Problems" A post regarding the June 30th, 2013 shutdown on Nextel's iDEN network and Sprint's clumsy and typically brain-dead attempts to migrate whatever existing Nextel customer base which remains over to the Sprint CDMA...err...Network (for lack of a better term!)

(Or...how to make really good friends and loyal customers in the cellular business by turning off their phones to inform (read: upsell) them and expect them to stay with you!)

(C)opyright 2014. These observations and opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of Interpage NSI, although as prior customers of Nextel who are getting rid of Sprint alltogether, I'm sure they would agree with some of the points raised!

+1 (510) 315-2750

It's been a while since any new issues have been added here pertaining to the cellular industry and wireless issues, mainly because a lot of the earlier technical problems of system integration, roaming, and seamless use of features and data plans have been addressed in the 14 years or so since this repository of posts was started.

However, if not for any reason other than general reference years after Nextel's iDEN is gone and forgotten (although there still, as of June 2013, will be other iDEN networks in the US, such as SouthernLink(?), as well as some carriers in Canada and outside of North America), I suspect it would be a good idea to document some of the typical pathetic behavior which Sprint/Nextel has engaged in during their "transition" period from iDEN to Sprint's CDMA network (which, as many Sprint customers have found out, is pretty much "Sprint will cover you where there are a lot of people but drive 20 miles out of town and we let Verizon do the heavy lifting for us and knock you off if you roam too much on them" -- soooo...err...why not just go to Verizon instead? Supposedly unlimited data on Sprint? We'll get to that later...)

Anyhow, a bit of history for people not familiar with iDEN:

(NOTE: After starting to write this, I realized there was a lot more to cover than I thought! For those who want to skip this history of Nextel/iDen and go right to the scathing criticism on Sprint/Nextel for how poorly they are implementing the Nextel/iDen shutdown, please skip to the bottom of this post...)

Back when AMPS (Advanced Mobile Phone Service, the successor to the non-cellular IMTS/Improved Mobile Phone Service) was started, there were two carriers in each market -- one was the landline (generally labeled the "B" (Bell?)) carrier (such as New England Telephone (then NYNEX, the Bell Atlantic Mobile, now Verizon (assuming they don't pull out of the landline phone business alltogether, which they seem to be itching for outside of FiOS areas, but that's another story), Pac*Bell, etc.), and the other was labeled the "A" carrier.

This A/B dichotomy was borrowed from the AMPS system, where each market was assigned two carriers -- the local Bell or other non-Bell incumbent landline phone company, and an "independent" company which was generally not associated with landline telephony but wanted to provide mobile phone service in a given market. IMTS, being the limited service that it was with few channels and thus a limited customer base, was rarely able to support and make a profit for smaller non-incumbent carriers, so in many cases these non-incumbent carriers used their IMTS frequencies for such additional services as paging, private mobile phone services for large companies, "trunked radio" and so forth. But the did retain ownership of their assigned frequencies and obtained others as well during their tenure, which would become an important basis for the foundationof Nextel years later.

Compared to IMTS, which, while not an awful service outside of large cities, the mid-1980's implementation of AMPS was a significant improvement as instead of a few high-power antennas to cover a whole city or metropolitan area, it used smaller, "cells" (hence the current term "cellular phone or "cellphone") to transmit lower powered signals (3-watt max?) so that frequencies could be re-used over and over and over again in different sections of a cellular market.

So, if a subscriber were talking on Channel 111 on the Oxnard, CA tower in the LA market, someone else in Irvine, 80 miles away, could use the same channel 111 on the local tower there, and the two subsrcibers would never interfere with each other since their signals would never cross paths. Needless to say, towers adjacent to each other normally would not use the same frequencies to avoid interference, but otherwise, each tower could offer many many channels to users within a few miles radius of it and facilitate nearly all the users who wish to place/receive calls in the local area.

There's a lot more to the cellular concept and how it originated and was tested in the late 1960s, 1970s, and implemented in the 1980s, but suffice it to say that by the late 1980s and early 1990s, there were two established carriers in each market, the A and B carriers, each with their own set of frequencies which generally served their areas reasonably well and were almost universally significant improvements over IMTS (except in very rural/mountainous areas where IMTS's stronger signal provided some modicum of service which AMPS could not without a local tower).

The A and B carriers form thus formed a market duopoly in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which was, in brief, initially tolerated by "first adopters" who had to have a cellphone and were glad that the IMTS "waiting-list" (yes, you had to wait to get an IMTS account in many major cities due to overcapacity problems) was no longer an issue and they could obtain a "car phone" immediatey.

However, as cellular service became increasingly ubiquitous, as phones became smaller, cheaper, and portable, and thus as it became more of a mass market (albeit high-end) communications tools, AMPS and the A/B market duopoly became increasingly untennable and unable to support expecations in terms of coverage, service integration and roaming, and pricing.

Thus enter Nextel: As AMPS by the A and B carriers was slowly replacing IMTS in each market, subsribers on the non-Bell/incumbent IMTS carriers began to decline, as cellular service was more generally more reliable and less prone to interference, dead-spots, and other issues, particularly in urban areas.

These extra frequencies presented an opportunity for Nextel: The extant A and B AMPS (cellular) carrier duopoly oftentimes did not inculcate a significant degree of competition between the A and B cellular carriers, and resulted in many of the aggregious billing and service practices detailed here on wirelessnotes.org, a good deal of whose articles were written during the late 1990's and ealry-2000s when competition from Nextel and other carriers was just starting up and when the A/B carriers were only starting to respond. (In fairness, there were also a number of Federal and other regulatory issues which bound the A/B carriers to certain limitations in their respective services which Nextel and other emerging carriers were not (directly) subject to.)

Nextel was thus formed by utilizing Motorola equipment which was able to "scan" a large(r) set of frequencies used the the non-Bell/non-incumbent IMTS carriers, as well as other RCC's (Radio Common Carriers), such as large fleet services like taxi radios and delivery services, etc. Nextel's "niche" and mode of entry into the cellular market where only two sets of "official" frequencies were already alloted to the A/B cellular carrier duoploy was to amalgamate these various frequencies into a nationwide network, where phones and towers could switch from one frequency band to another as needed based on what was available for use in a given local or corridor market.

Nextel thus did not need the FCC to allot it a large swath of spectrum as it did for the A and B cellular carriers, rather, it "built-up" it's network by integrating many different, currently in-use frequency bands into a network which, to the end user, appeared seamless and integrated. A typical Nextel customer would have no idea that at one minute he was using a 450 MHz band from an old IMTS carrier and the next minute he was using and 800 MHz band from a RCC carrier or paging provider with extra bandwidth to sell to Nextel.

Nextel was able to build out a network based on a quiltwork of different frequencies in different services using the iDen protocol and Motorola radios (phones) and towers to do all the back-end work to have iDen, in theory, and to a great extent in practice, work and function as a "traditional" A/B cellular carrier would.

(An analog to this on the paging side was Arch Nationwide Paging which built up a "nationwide" network by using Motorola scanning multi-frequency pagers, which would "scan" a large series of known paging frequencies in different markets so a given pager could "roam" to distant areas and still receive pagers. Arch did not "build up" a new network from scratch using a single, expensive nationwide set of paging frequencies, but instead leveraged and integrated a variety of independent local and regional paging carriers to provide the user with, in theory, a single nationwide service footprint (albeit serviced by many different local carriers).)

In the process, it was able, via iDEN, to offer services and features which the A/B carriers at the time were not. The most common was of course the Push-to-Talk (PTT) / Walkie-Talkie feature, which was later emulated (less successfully and less elegantly) by a number of carriers, but iDEN allowed for a "second cellular line" (2 actual lines assigned to the same phone), a "data line" (a third line could be assigned for data calls to/from the phone), ISDN (and to an extent GSM-like) control features for incoming calls (the type of call, such as "Incoming Forwarded Call" would be displayed), and a variety of conditional call-forwarding features (also like GSM) were offered, such as "No Answer Transfer", "Busy Transfer", "Unavailable Transfer" and "Unconditional Transfer", each being able to divert to a different destination based on the condition and type of transfering required. A slow, but reliable, packet-data service was also available towards the mid-2000's, which supplemented the dial-up "cell phone as modem" service called "Nextel Dial-Up". Additionally some common call features, such as "Call Waiting", allowed for incoming calls to be added to existing calls in a conference, again, more a GSM-ish type feature and something which was certainly not available (and still isn't in 2014!) on CDMA networks such as Verizon and Sprint.

Uniquely to Nextel, most of these were included as part of any given Nextel customer's basic service plan! We had five Nextels, obtained at different times and which were not purchased under any single or unified plan, and each of them had most of these features "thrown in" and offered without any additional charge. (The Nextel Dial-Up/Data service was $5 per month more, which also included some allotment of text messages, and the second line -- an expensive extra -- was billed almost as a second phone would and at different times in our tenure with Nextel, did not offer unlimited incoming, unlimited off-peak, etc. (the rates kept changing for the second line, but it was always expensive...).

Nextel also was one of the first major carriers (if not THE first) to offer unlimited airtime. While some local/regional carriers (such as Cell One/Vermont, later RCC Cellular, and eventually Verizon) offered unlimited plans (way before Nextel came up I-91 to VT), most of major carriers were billing every minute. Verizon introduced "First Incoming Minute Fee" for analog and then "Digital Choice" customers (and later unlimited off peak), and ATTWS offered a $100 unlimited in/out plan for it's small digital footprint at the time, but Nextel led the vanguard of unlimited plans (slowly adding more to what type of call was applicable as "unlimited") and the other carriers had to follow on. Nextel at it's outset also offered "per second" (or was it 6-second?) billing, so that short calls were not billed as a full minute. In general, Nextel played no small role in the introduction and implementation of unlimited cellular caller in the US, and it forced other carrier to offer similar plans to remain competitive.

Overall, for a reasonable price, Nextel's iDEN service, when there was good coverage, was a very attractive option for those who wanted to do more with their phones and get some additional "office-like"/ISDN-ish features which were not available with other providers. The coverage was problematic early on, and handoff issues and drops along highways (or even walking down streets in major cities!) were highly annoying, but ATT Wireless seemed just as bad then -- if not worse -- and we tended to use Verizon as a backup for areas where Nextel was just too unreliable. But generally, if coverage was good (and it got better over time, more or less), Nextel phones offered highly advanced featurs and increasinngly competitive and market-setting pricing, making it a valuable tool which we relied on and generally had few (other than coverage issues) problems with.

After Sprint took over in the mid-2000's, however, Nextel slowly began it's downward regrssion and slowly but surely started to take on the "lagging edge" characteristics of Sprint, and, as is typical with our Sprint experiences, slowly but surely managed to alienate HIGHLY loyal Nextel customers to the point where we just wanted to have nothing to do with the combined Nextel/Sprint company any longer.

(Will add the rest of this sad story as time permits... But in the meantime look up posts about Sprint; our horror stories are probably not the worst, but they show how Sprint can ratchet-up their well-honed skills at alienating customers to the point that they are so unpalatable that even the thought of dealing with them now (years later), so nauseates me that I need to stop typing and take a break! :) )

Interpage Main Page
Contact Us
Fax to Elected Officials
LobbyByFax System
Back to WirelessNotes Main Page

Last Update: 03/06/2014