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Nextel

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With, especially, the expansion of Nextel's Direct Connect two-way service to nationwide (and some international locations), the has become another potentially useful tool for out-of-band voice communications.

In the outcome of the Sprint/Nextel merger, Direct Connect is being transitioned from the original iDen implementation to a Sprint implementation of Qualcomm's QChat application, running over Sprint EVDO; this is finally in production service, with 4 basic and midlevel handsets available, and interoperability between the QChat and iDEN networks as demonstrated in this video.

The BlackBerry turned out to be the 8350i, which -- presumably because its design needed to be locked while the rumored Nextel spinout from Sprint was still up in the air -- uses iDen DC (and wiDEN slow-speed data, but that's another story).

As with most communications tools, Direct Connect/PTT works more efficiently if everyone involved is using the same protocols on a network.

Baylink's approach Edit

Baylink says: One such protocol set is hereby submitted for your consideration.  :-)

I utilize the nationwide and cross-fleet features of Nextel to communicate with about 12 of my consulting clients; the light-weight nature of the communications makes them easier and therefore more likely to be used, when perhaps a phone call carries enough more psychological weight that you'd just punt.

Call setup and teardown Edit

To get someone's attention for an unexpected call, I just select them from my directory, and bump the PTT button.

This will, assuming their radio is idle, result in a medium-loud double beep, clearly identifiable as an incoming radio call in all but the noisiest environments. It has the advantage that, unlike an 'alert' (which is the next step of escalation), it goes away by itself.

The reset timer on that loud double beep is usually about 30 seconds; if the call isn't critical, I might wait those 30 seconds and repeat it, and then put it off 'til some other time -- this permits the recipient to merely ignore the beep if it's a bad time to talk.

If it is urgent that I talk to them immediately, then I'll use the alert feature to call them; this generates a big, loud quad-beep, that repeats every 15 seconds or so, either until they answer (or cancel it), or, on newer phones, until a user-set timer expires (1-30 minutes, or never). Even if your call is critical, though, it can be useful to try 'the bump' first; their phone might be sitting on their desk next to them (as mine often is), and the alert tone is (purposefully) quite jarring.

As for teardown, well, you can use whatever signoff you feel necessary... though "over and out" is probably overdoing it. (Don't laugh: I have one client who says exactly this. He knows he should say something special, he just doesn't know what. :-)

Another approach is to use ten-codes, as law enforcement and emergency services people (yes, and CB'ers) do; there's a reason why they do that: it's more efficient. (Though the differ from organization to organization, which is why the Incident Command System forbids their use.)

And one sort of teardown is the quick "I'm busy right now", which can only be *quick* if the caller is listening for it, so do. Possible such responses include "stand-by", "wait one", and "10-6". This response from a recipient doesn't require any reply (other than maybe a 'bump', which also means 'acknowledged', in addition to the many other things it means).

In general, I find it productive to use the 'bump' to signify the "default" transmission at any given point: "Are you busy", "naw; go ahead", "ok; thanks", or "mm hmm". It's akin to the double click originated by ham radio operators, though a double click is difficult to do on Nextel due to timing issues.

General Issues, Hints & Tips Edit

Some things to remember to make working with Nextel less frustrating include the following:

  • If you bump someone accidentally (usually because you were talking to them earlier, and your radio didn't reset to phone mode -- make a habit of doing it manually after calls to avoid this), the nice one-word "I didn't mean it" transmission is "... disregard." (Usually sent with a long-suffering "what an idiot my radio is" tone of voice.)
  • While Nextel will tell you that the other party is busy in private or data (which includes packet data and on-phone web services), it will *not* tell you explicitly that they're on their phone -- and they don't know you're trying to call them either. Worse, you can't put a phone call on hold and switch to the radio to consult on something.
  • There are two out-of-service indicators when you try to call someone with Direct Connect: a high tone that starts immediately means their phone is off, and the network heard it say goodbye. The "busy tone", followed in a second or so by a short burst of high tone means the network can't find their phone, but did not hear it 'unregister', as it would have if they'd shut it off; it's likely gone out of range. Newer handsets may use different tone patterns for these 2 situations.
  • You can send your phone an email (or, for that matter, anyone else can, too), using two addresses:
3115552368@page.nextel.com sends the message as an alpha page: you can get bundles of 300 or 1000 of these for a price.
3115552368@messaging.nextel.com sends the message as a two-way (MMS) message; this service is usually bundled with the wireless web service, so you get them free; they can also be replied to, if the sending address is a working address.
BlackBerries will additionally have a direct 'push' email address.
Note that even if you have the limited wireless web, you can still hit the link button in the reader when an email contains a URL, and go there... regardless of what that link is.
  • Wireless web service also includes (in some packages) AIM service direct to the phone, which can be useful not only for communications, but (depending on what bot software you can find) possibly also for remote control. (Access control, remote reboot/power control, etc -- just use challenge/response.)
  • There's a fairly useful gateway at hz.com, which users with email capability from their phones may also find handy. (Or there sometimes is/used to be; no more later... it seems to have disappeared.)

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