Nextel President and CEO Tim Donahue yesterday said he believes the company’s iDEN network could be part of the “public-safety network of the future” after it offloads its consumer traffic to Sprint’s CDMA network a few years after the merger of Nextel and Sprint.

Previously, Nextel officials indicated that capital expenditures for the iDEN network would cease in 2007. But Donahue--speaking at the Lehman Brothers Worldwide Wireless and Wireline Conference in New York—indicated that the iDEN network would be part of the merged company’s consumer plans longer than that.

“The idea is to keep the iDEN core up probably through the 2008-2010 timeframe,” Donahue said. “At that point, it is my hope and desire that we can take the iDEN network and become a very strong public-safety network for this country.”

And such a network is needed, because the Department of Homeland Security formerly led by Tom Ridge has “failed miserably when it comes to communications,” Donahue said.

“If we had another disaster in New York, the communications between cop, fire, EMS and the rest of world probably wouldn’t be any better today than it was back in 2001,” Donahue said. “To me, something has to be done.”

The answer may lie in a $10 billion request for proposal (RFP) for a nationwide wireless network for public safety, Donahue said. Although not mentioned by name, the statement appeared to be a clear reference to the integrated wireless network (IWN)--a massive project that bidders have held not spoken about publicly during the past several months.

Donahue said he believes Nextel’s iDEN network can play a key role in the IWN for public safety.

“I think we can do it. I think we can do it in conjunction with Motorola,” he said. “I think they believe they can build future functionality into the iDEN network that could be the public-safety network of the future.”

Motorola officials were unavailable to comment on Donahue’s statement in time for this story.