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Sprint, Verizon race on 'push to talk'

The two carriers both plan to have a copycat of Nextel's walkie-talkie feature this year. But who's going to win the race for No. 2?

Verizon Wireless plans to offer a "push to talk" service for cell phones in the next few months, Verizon Chief Executive Officer Dennis Strigl said this week.

Nextel Communications is, so far, the only U.S. carrier to offer the service, which lets subscribers reach others by pushing a button on the side of the phone, rather than dialing a telephone number.

With his comments at this week's Legg Mason Telecom Conference 2003, Strigl has put Verizon Wireless and Sprint PCS in a horse race to be next to offer the service. Sprint PCS also intends to introduce a push-to-talk feature very soon, company President Len Lauer said recently.

"I heard Len Lauer say he would have a push-to-talk feature this year," Strigl said at the conference. "I will tell you that is also in our plans"

Push-to-talk has become Nextel's most popular feature. Nextel subscribers make more of these walkie-talkie conversations than traditional phone calls, Nextel Chief Technology Officer Barry West said. Nextel Communications began licensing the technology behind the service to handset makers and wireless carriers last year.

Like Strigl, Lauer recently announced an intent to offer a push-to-talk service, but he did not provide any more details.