Nextel phones get the signal through

Nextel phones get the signal through

They're durable and provide clear wireless service as well as a two-way radio app for workgroups

By John Breeden II

GCN Staff

The rugged i700plus wireless phone and the stylishly small i1000plus, both from Nextel Communications Inc., aim at business rather than consumer communication. They can function as pagers, radios and Web devices.

A pair of the phones goes for about $200. The network service plans start at $69 a month for national calling and go as high as $199 per month, per phone. Those are definitely business rather than consumer rates and tend to keep the network from getting overloaded.

The i1000plus executive phone has
a sleek look and good speakerphone pickup.

The GCN Lab tested both models in the Washington local calling area and ventured out farther into the hinterland. For federal employees based in Washington, the local calling area covers the District of Columbia, Baltimore and Annapolis, Md. It snakes out to cities as far south as Fredericksburg, Va., and west to Hagerstown, Md.

Clear calls

Because Nextel's network is all-digital, the calls were completely clear about 90 percent of the time.

During tests of the i1000plus, I talked at length and told the other parties that I was speaking over a wireless network only at the end of each call. When I told people, most couldn't believe it.

The i1000plus speakerphone worked better than most land-line speakerphones I have tried. In the car, I activated the speaker and then put the phone on the passenger seat while I drove with both hands. Again, most people did not believe I was talking over a speakerphone.

The i700plus phone survived repeated dropping and rain forest humidity tests.

The i700plus ruggedized model had a rubber coating that absorbed the usual shocks of dropping. I let the phone fall from a height of three feet 20 times without doing noticeable damage. I also subjected it to the lab's rain forest test inside a sealed chamber with a boiling-water humidifier. After an hour, I retrieved the phone and made a call with no problem.

Both phones work as two-way radios, which can keep users in touch with everyone in a workgroup. It also saves on network air time. Radio use is essentially free. You can radio anyone within the local calling area who has a Nextel phone.

A pager button also can alert other Nextel users. Again, there's no bill for air time.

In my local testing area, the radio signals were as clear as when talking on the digital phone. I put a lot of distance between the phones. At one point, two users 205 miles apart communicated via radio.

That much range is a lot better than the walkie-talkies I used to play with in the backyard.

But the Nextel phones do share some walkie-talkie disadvantages. Only one person can talk at a time by radio. You push the talk button, wait till you hear a series of brief tones and then talk with the button still depressed. When you are finished speaking, you release the talk button. A second tone alerts the other user or users that the air is clear.

Box Score

i700plus and i1000 plus

Digital radio phones

Nexel Communications Inc.; Reston,

VA.; tel. 800-639-6111

Price: $200 Per pair

+ Clear, crisp digital phone service

+ Untethered connectivity

+ Radio-phone and Web browsing as free options

- Among the most expensive wireless services

You can set up groups of people to be paged at the touch of a button. For example, to tell everyone in the office to meet in the conference room, you set up an office group, then simply key the radio to alert them all.

Up to 100 people

Groups can be as large as 100 people. In theory, everyone in the group can talk back, but one at a time. For large groups, the radio function is limited to one-way messages, because multiple users would talk over each other while responding.

The Web phone function accesses text Web pages via the Wireless Application Protocol. There is a good interface for checking weather, getting directions or finding local points of interest. The map driving directions transmit one step at a time.

You can receive calls while browsing the Web. Surfing does not count toward the monthly air time.

Nextel phones cost more than standard wireless phones, but that cost translates into greater durability and reliability. The radio and Web browsing options could come in handy when you are lost in a strange area or need to get in touch with an entire workgroup right away.


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