Large Wireless Carriers Set To Roll Out Next-Generation Networks

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After considerable hype, many of the largest wireless carriers are finally expected to complete much of their next-generation networks by year-end.

Dubbed 2.5G because they bridge the gap between today's second-generation digital networks and the faster, more powerful third-generation networks on the horizon, the new networks promise faster speeds for business users and more voice capabilities so carriers can meet future demand.

Two main types of 2.5G networks will emerge in the United States this year: Code Division Multiple Access 2000 (CDMA2000) and General Packet Radio Service (GPRS). CDMA2000 is a CDMA-based standard used by Sprint PCS and Verizon. GPRS, which works atop GSM networks and is the dominant platform in Europe, is supported by AT&T Wireless and Cingular in the United States.

Sprint plans to wrap up the rollout of its 2.5G U.S. network by midyear, and Verizon expects to have 80 percent of its network completed by then, according to company reports. AT&T Wireless plans to have 60 percent of its 2.5G network done by year-end, while its GPRS counterpart Cingular isn't slated to finish its 2.5G network rollout until 2004. Sprint and AT&T have said they will migrate to 3G shortly after their 2.5G rollouts.

The core benefit of the 2.5G networks is speed. Instead of the sluggish 14.4 Kbps and lower speeds experienced on today's networks, 2.5G will bring transfers of 40 Kbps to 60 Kbps for GPRS and up to 144 Kbps for Sprint's CDMA2000. While some integrators doubt that transfers will reach the peak speeds touted by proponents of the standards, they say the new networks stand to deliver close to the 56-Kbps dial-up speeds,or higher,that most mobile workers have come to expect.

Another key improvement with 2.5G networks is packet-based data transport. As a result, wireless mobile applications can be written much more easily, integrators say.

For their 2.5G wireless networks, Sprint and AT&T plan to offer new phones that leverage advanced messaging and wireless Internet capabilities as well as PC Card modems that can slip into PDAs and notebooks.

AT&T's plan, for example, starts at $29.99 per month for 5 Mbytes of data transfers. Incremental data use above that is billed at 1 cent per Kbyte. The Novatel Merlin G100 model for use with the package is priced at $299. For the time being, Cingular said it will provide business messaging and wireless Internet exclusively.

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