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Say goodbye to Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S ) . No, the nation's third-largest mobile network isn't going out of business -- it's just that the Nextel part of it just became totally irrelevant.
Sprint just announced that a consortium of contractors will dismantle Nextel's iDEN network this year. As part of the company's Network Vision modernization program, iDEN services like the push-to-talk walkie-talkie function will cease by the end of June. And then, an army of engineers invades Sprint's signal towers to recycle or otherwise dispose of the old equipment. Approximately 9,600 towers are up for a visit before the fourth quarter starts. I'd imagine the company renaming itself to plain old Sprint in short order, because there's not much left of the Nextel brand now.
This should open up the iDEN network's radio spectrum for other uses, such as the already-announced plan to roll out a 4G LTE network. Sprint is not as committed to the Clearwire (Nasdaq: CLWR ) WiMAX network as it once was, and this is basically plan B playing out as Phil Falcone's LightSquared project hit a regulatory brick wall.
The dismantling of Nextel is hardly shocking. That push-to-talk feature was once a selling point, unique in the industry. Now, any old smartphone can achieve similar feats of instant communication without leaning on a proprietary network. Sprint moves on to compete more effectively with industry giants Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) and AT&T (NYSE: T ) . The difference between one operator and the next just became even smaller. Mobile computing and communications are becoming commodities, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. When the industry majors compete on pricing and quality rather than gimmicky features, innovation is alive and well -- just aimed in a different direction.
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