Sprint Nextel is discontinuing use of Qualcomm's QChat technology that enables push-to-talk services on CDMA EV-DO Rev. A phones.

The operator, which once planned to migrate all of its iDEN users onto the QChat service, now will cease offering any new QChat-enabled devices and services but will continue to support existing users, Sprint spokesman Scott Sloat said.

In 2006, Sprint announced an agreement to use Qualcomm's solution to deliver a service that would offer similar performance to — and ultimately interoperate with — its legacy iDEN-based service. The idea was to enable QChat to work with high-speed data applications. The technology includes simultaneous voice and data sessions, and Qualcomm always has pushed the notion of incorporating P2T with other services — such as social networking, video text messaging and more — a concept known as “push-to-x.” For instance, a public-safety user could push a map or a GPS coordinate to another colleague with the push of a button.

Sprint told Urgent Communications early last year that it had a big incentive to get iDEN users moved over to QChat because of the types of solutions it could offer. Data speeds on iDEN will never change from 14.4 kb/s.

But Sprint made the decision to revitalize the iDEN network after it couldn't find a buyer for it last year.

Sloat said that after the company decided to reinvigorate the iDEN network, it "launched new innovative devices and services, improved the quality of the iDEN network to best-ever performance levels and updated our pricing plans to be simpler so customers get the best value." As such, the operator is going to focus its resources on the "gold standard iDEN network," he said.

For the most part, it doesn't appear that many, if any, public-safety users are using the QChat service. The iDEN network continues to serve as an adjunct P2T service that complements agencies’ land mobile radio systems. Competitors like Verizon Wireless and AT&T also have introduced P2T on their commercial networks but don't have the voice/data integration or the call set-up requirements that public safety needs.

QChat always promised to be a valuable adjunct for public-safety users hungry for broadband mobile services, especially as they wait for the possibility of LTE networks coming into the 700 MHz band. Now it's up to Qualcomm to push this technology along. How it will do so is a big question, as Sprint has the exclusive on the technology in the United States, and it's unclear whether Sprint will release its hold on it.

Qualcomm issued a statement saying it continues to support Sprint's QChat customers and is also "pursuing opportunities to expand the QChat business both domestically and internationally to work with multiple 3G operators moving forward."

Vishal Gupta, vice president of North American sales, said in a statement that "Qualcomm continues to innovate and invest in QChat. ... We expect to launch QChat internationally in the coming year but cannot yet disclose which operators."

Perhaps QChat will show up in another form, perhaps as another feature on smartphones. Unfortunately, however, Sprint’s abandonment of the platform probably represents another missed opportunity for public safety to efficiently access high-speed data services.