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E-business: Calling up the past as walkie-talkie ideas on march again.

Walkie talkies have been here for decades - but some mobile cell phone makers fighting for business now see the 60-year-old technology as the next new thing.

The old idea works in a new way for American firm Nextel Communications, which introduced a radio-phone combination more than five years ago to attract business customers.

Since almost half of the US population already own mobile phones, wireless companies facing fierce competition must find more inventive ways than than traditional voice minutes to win customers and improve revenue.

As a result most companies are planning high speed services - but some think the walkie-talkie could help, as well. It might even become the next consumer fad, some analysts say.

Nextel says almost all of its 9.2 million subscribers regularly use its Direct Connect radio service.

Transport companies use the feature as a quick and cheap way to instantly reach drivers as a group or on an individual basis at the push of a button, to find out for example who is near enough to pick up a load from a downtown location for example.

In comparison mobile phone calls take several seconds to connect, do not support instant group links and are more expensive because phone companies charge per minutes used, or limit use to a set amount of time.

Nextel says that some walkie-talkie chats are done before a phone call would have connected. Some of the company's tariffs include unlimited use of the walkie-talking feature - and rivals are now looking to snare a share of the business.

Both Verizon and Sprint are working on walkie-talkie technology they call push-to-talk. Verizon says it will launch its service in the next 12 to 18 months. AT&T Wireless Services and Cingular Wireless also said they are examining the idea.

Ovum analyst Michael Doherty said: 'Depending on how the newer entrants bundle push-to-talk in with their other product lines, that's where they could start to do some damage to Nextel.'

US operators are all upgrading their networks to provide high-speed services like mobile e-mail access. Nextel, which has no high-speed data plans so far, argues that initially these services will not be fast enough to make a difference.

Nextel's president, Tim Donahue, admits there is a lot of talk about duplication of Direct Connect but doesn't fear a threat for at least two or three years.

CAPTION(S):

The introduction of walkie talkies was literally the talk of the force. Now the principle may be making a comeback
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 11, 2002
Words:414
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