Turn Old Nextel Phone Into a Walkie-talkie

New life for obsolete Nextel phones

Sprint has killied the Nextel Motorola iDEN network in the United States. That’s too bad, but if you have a pair of Nextel phones you can turn them into very good two way radios that will function even without the cell phone network.

Many, if not all newer Motorola Nextel phones have the “off network mode” also known as MOTO Talk which turn the phones into walkie-talkies completely independent of the phone provider’s network. The radios don’t use encryption, although the privacy settings allow users to communicate with select private groups and to individual units.

A SIM card is mandatory, although network service is not. I suspect any SIM card will do the trick. Without one the phone just hangs up at a screen that ask to insert a SIM card.

Nextel phone off network mode menuI tested a pair of Motorola i576 phones in an urban low-rise environment with hills and natural and man made obstacles occluding the line of sight. One unit was stationary and another was in a moving vehicle. I was able to transmit and receive completely clear voice up to one mile (1.5km) distance.

It is reasonable to expect that in a line of sight applications the range would be far greater. The range may also depend on the model of the phone.

To enable the off network mode simply go to the phone menu, turn the Direct Talk on and make sure the channel selection and privacy codes are matched on all the units you intend to use.

When the Nextel network is finally shut down in 2013, all these iDEN phones will flood eBay and there will be a lot bargains out there.

6 thoughts on “Turn Old Nextel Phone Into a Walkie-talkie”

  1. Thats the amazing thing about these phones they’re great digital radios. People been using motorola i355s a lot and they have better range than frs. I got my i576 for 3 dollars from someone who though it won’t work anymore haha. Ordered another one. Switched to them for local neighborhood comms with friends to keep stealth from the retard drug dealers across the street. Their POS scanners can’t even get it lol

  2. Thanks for the note Emily. I miss using these phones. I mean, I like all the conveniences of a smartphone, but i576 was such a great small phone with a powerful speaker. It wasn’t as sturdy as the design would suggest, but it did ok. I just looked on Ebay. They sell for $20-30 which is surprisingly high.

    Do you happen to know if the off-network 2-way mode uses encryption?

  3. They are frequency hopping. Anyone listening in would have to have identical phones with the same channel settings.

    1. I have a pair I’m not using, but I don’t know… I feel I should shed some junk, on the other hand I kind of feel I should hang onto them.

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