Sprint eyeing sale of Nextel's iDen network

US carrier Sprint Nextel is considering a sale of the Nextel wireless network it bought in 2005, but may have trouble finding a buyer for an asset whose value has plunged about 80% to an estimated €3.3 billion (US$5 billion), a Reuters report said.

Sprint has struggled to integrate Nextel's iDen network, used by public safety and construction workers, with its own services and has lost millions of customers since paying about €23.4 billion (US$35 billion) for Nextel Communications three years ago, the report also said.

Aside from having to compete with newer network standards than iDen, which has a walkie-talkie feature, any buyer would find it tough to reverse the now-completed integration of the iDen business, including its billing, broadcast towers and customer service, analysts say.

'They spent the last few years trying to integrate it,' Stifel Nicolaus analyst Chris King was quoted by the report as saying. 'There are a lot of questions that a buyer and the government would have to have.'

Sprint, the No. 3 US mobile service, already faces pressure from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to relinquish a key chunk of iDen wireless airwaves for emergency communications networks.

Bernstein analyst Craig Moffett also noted that iDen technology, developed by Motorola, was being left behind by newer mobile services with broadband web links.

About 14.6 million subscribers, or 28% of Sprint's total 51.9 million customers, were exclusively using the iDen network at the end of the second quarter. Another 1.7 million used phones working on both iDen and CDMA networks.

Sprint said in a regulatory filing this week that it was exploring alternatives for iDen that include 'improving operations, making additional investments, entering into strategic partnerships and considering potential divestitures.'