Sprint Nextel at the end of last year chose the vendors for its network modernization project, which includes phasing out its iDEN network beginning in 2013.

While the technology may be losing its biggest backer, regional iDEN player SouthernLINC — which operates in major metro and rural areas in Alabama, Georgia, southeast Mississippi and northwest Florida — believes the technology will live on.

“We work a lot with Motorola and the International iDEN Operators Forum,” said SouthernLINC CEO Bob Dawson. “The technology continues to be enhanced, system releases are continuing to go into the network and handsets keep coming out. … iDEN being turned off by Sprint wouldn’t be a great day, but the technology will still go on. People who value push-to-talk will continue to be customers here.”

Meanwhile, cellular competitors aggressively are pricing their own push-to-talk services with cheaper plans, the company acknowledges. But latency and longer call-set-up times associated with cellular push-to-talk aren’t adequate for public safety and many enterprise groups, said Rodney Johnson, vice president of sales and distribution with SouthernLINC. Moreover, the company has hardened its infrastructure, perhaps more than Sprint Nextel itself, thanks to the requirement that the network meet the needs of Southern Company’s local power companies during disasters and severe weather.

“When we see a customer go to push-to-talk on cellular, it’s typically based on price,” Johnson said. “There are some customers who don’t value the features of our infrastructure.”

Dawson said that SouthernLINC’s customer base consists of nearly equal parts of public-safety users, enterprise customers and consumer users. The operator offers a prepaid, push-to-talk plan that has been attractive to both consumers and businesses that are using it to curb costs in a tight economy.

iDEN handsets also have become more attractive. The company offers the iDEN BlackBerry 8350 device, and last May, it introduced Motorola’s i1 push-to-talk Android smartphone based on iDEN. The device is a touchscreen phone that includes Web browsing and access to thousands of applications via the Android Market. While both smartphones are relegated to iDEN’s narrowband data service, which is ideal for short bursty communications such as e-mail and messaging, users can connect to Wi-Fi hotspots for more data-intensive functions, Johnson said.

Dawson said his company continues to watch the development of next-generation LTE technology and has been active in the standards-making process at the 3GPP to make sure the 800 MHz spectrum band it operates in will be included in the LTE specifications. “We are working hard to get ours included so that there can be a path forward with this spectrum,” Dawson said. “Whether or not that happens is yet to be seen.”

What do you think? Tell us in the comment box below.

For more information on next-generation networks, attend these sessions at IWCE in Las Vegas, March 7-11, 2011.