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Nextel, Cingular agree on keeping numbers

The companies ink a deal that will let each other's customers switch carriers but keep their old cell phone numbers.

Cingular Wireless and Nextel Communications have agreed on a process that will let each other's customers switch carriers later this year but keep their old cell phone numbers.

The announcement is Nextel's second so-called service level agreement. In September, the company unveiled a similar deal with competitor Sprint PCS.

Cell phone provider Verizon Wireless and its parent company, Verizon Communications, have the only other publicly disclosed service level agreement. The two carriers have already begun offering what's known as "number portability" between the two sets of subscribers.

Wireless industry analysts expect the pace of such deals to accelerate. Cell phone providers have until Nov. 24 to meet a federal mandate to allow subscribers to switch and keep their old phone numbers. "If all these carriers truly want to meet the deadline, we'll be hearing of a lot of these agreements," said Joe Laszlo, an analyst at Jupiter Research.

The cell phone industry's main lobbyists, the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, say the process has been slow, because federal regulators failed for so long to suggest an industrywide model carriers could use. The Federal Communications Commission published a nonbinding