Finally, the long-awaited reconfiguration of the 800 MHz airwaves has begun. It hasn't exactly been a smooth start, as the Transition Administrator team still is trying to gather information from the affected licensees and, in some cases, attempting to track down the licensees themselves. On top of that, myriad procedural questions still loom about the process, chief among them exactly what costs Nextel Communications is obligated to cover and how those payments will be executed.

On page 4, Nextel executive Sandy Edwards pledges that the carrier is “committed to ensuring this process is carried out efficiently and with as little disruption as possible.” Some in public safety will smirk at the irony of the remark, given that it is primarily Nextel (soon to be Sprint Nextel, after the merger is complete) that disrupted first-responder communications in the band.

Others will question whether Nextel can keep its eye on the rebanding ball as it tackles a complicated engineering challenge at the same time it navigates its merger with Sprint. It's a legitimate concern. But I think Nextel ultimately will live up to Edwards' pledge. It won't be because Nextel suddenly is overcome by a sense of altruism — after all, this is a publicly traded company competing in an overcrowded sector. No, Nextel's ability to pull off rebanding with a minimal amount of hiccups will come down to — as it so often does — money.

In this edition's cover story, MRT writer Lynnette Luna analyzes the current and future role of commercial wireless services in first-responder communications. In her account, she quotes Nextel CEO Tim Donahue, who predicts the carrier's iDEN platform will become a key part of the public-safety communications network of the future and perhaps a component of the nationwide integrated wireless network. Donahue knows billions of dollars will be up for grabs soon as public safety transitions from legacy systems to next-generation systems capable of new voice and data applications. Donahue knows, too, that Nextel will be facing fierce competition in the not-too-distant future on the push-to-talk front from other commercial carriers, most notably Verizon Wireless.

Despite the 800 MHz interference fiasco, Nextel generally has done a good job of cultivating fans among public-safety and elected officials by promoting its iDEN service as an effective supplement to existing LMR systems. With commercial services poised to take a larger role in public-safety communications in the future, Nextel cannot let that opportunity slip through its fingers by fumbling on rebanding.