07:51 PM
David Ewalt
David Ewalt

Nextel Extends Wireless Throughout Buildings

Devices can be used to rebroadcast walkie-talkie, cellular, and Wi-Fi signals

A big selling point for wireless technology is its ability to liberate workers from their offices. But what about people inside buildings with wiring that interferes with cell-phone and Wi-Fi signals? Nextel Communications Inc. addressed that issue last week with a system that combines cellular and wireless LAN service.

The system uses access units from wireless hardware vendor RadioFrame Networks Inc. that can be installed throughout a facility. The breadbox-sized devices contain slots for seven radio blades that can be used to rebroadcast a variety of signals, including Nextel's Direct Connect walkie-talkie calls, CDMA or GSM cellular, and 802.11b Wi-Fi.

The most immediate benefit of the system, Nextel says, is to eliminate dropped phone calls, which can boost productivity and sales.

The system makes sense for Nextel customers, because it would let them extend tools such as walkie-talkie service across a building, TeleChoice analyst Pat Hurley says. But he's not sure it's as good an investment for businesses that have to pay for each minute of cellular service when using other cellular carriers.

The cost of the system varies. Nextel is cutting deals with some of its cellular customers, including deploying the system in return for orders for more handsets or service.

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