By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
Wireless carriers VoiceStream and Cingular Wireless revealed new details about their high-speed wireless-data plans, with VoiceStream planning to become the first U.S. carrier to launch GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) technology in seven cities before the end of the year.
Cingular will follow by putting GPRS technology in place across the former Pacific Bell Wireless GSM properties in California and Nevada by the end of the year with a commercial launch in March, said Dave Williams, the carrier's strategic planning VP. GPRS will then be turned up in the GSM network in the Carolinas, Seattle and Spokane.
The carrier is studying the possible use of GPRS in the spectrum it acquired two weeks ago from VoiceStream in New York City, Detroit and St. Louis.
In its TDMA markets, Cingular will begin implementing EDGE (enhanced data rates for global evolution) in late 2001, with a full commercial introduction in 2002.
Both GPRS and EDGE are always-on packet-data technologies like CDPD. Because data is delivered in packets, it doesn't tie up a circuit for the entire duration of a data session. Data rates are also faster than circuit-switched 9.6- and 14.4-Kbps speeds obtained by 2G digital networks.
The first carrier to offer GPRS globally was British Telecom's Cellnet subsidiary, which launched it on a limited basis last summer.
VoiceStream, the nation's largest GSM carrier, said it will have GPRS in all its markets by the middle of 2001. It has been testing GPRS handsets from manufacturers such as Mitsubishi Wireless, Sagem and Samsung, as well as laptop PC Card radiomodems from Novatel Wireless. The latter would offer data rates of 56 Kbps.
VoiceStream has already contracted with Samsung to deliver a microbrowser-equipped single-band GPRS handset. It would be Samsung's first GSM handset in the United States and is targeted to ship in mid-2001 "to coincide with VoiceStream's launch of GPRS," said Samsung senior sales and marketing VP Pete Skarzynski.
Sometime later, Samsung will deliver to VoiceStream a GPRS-equipped smartphone incorporating Microsoft's smartphone technology, dubbed Stinger, and Microsoft's Mobile Explorer microbrowser technology. "We're still coming up with the development schedule," Skarzynski said.
That phone will incorporate Microsoft's Mobile Explorer microbrowser, which accesses and displays HTML and XML websites. The phone will also incorporate a WAP microbrowser.
Microsoft's Stinger platform is based on Windows CE version 3.0.
Cingular's im-plementation of GPRS, which initially provides data rates of about 28 Kbps, will send the carrier on the road to a convergence within its own diverse network. Cingular's network has 19 million customers in 38 states, much of it using the TDMA air interface. The company is still putting its 11 different brands under the Cingular name.
Cingular will bring its TDMA and GSM networks together technologically once EDGE is implemented in its TDMA properties. The EDGE transition, also a 2.5G technology, will take place beginning in late 2001, with a full commercial introduction in 2002.
EDGE uses GPRS in its backbone, providing the TDMA/GSM convergence that the carrier needs. The nation's largest TDMA carrier, AT & T Wireless Services, also plans to migrate to EDGE on the same time frame.
Handset availability is a key part of the rollout of both GPRS and EDGE, although the first device employing GPRS in the United States could be a PCMCIA card for laptop computers.
Williams said Cingular will use GPRS handsets such as the Ericsson R250, and the carrier is studying models from Mitsubishi, Motorola and Nokia.
Ericsson's Bluetooth-equipped R250 supports GSM 900/1800/ 1900 networks, allowing its use in 120 countries. The handset is expected to be available in commercial quantities by March 2001.
Cingular and AT & T Wireless are also working with handset manufacturers on models that will provide voice interoperability for TDMA and GSM. The first handsets would provide GSM and TDMA digital interoperability, plus analog AMPS, are expected to be available in about a year.
Cingular Wireless, cobbled together through the SBC-BellSouth joint venture, unveiled its packetized network capabilities during the Comdex computing show in Las Vegas.
Brad Smith is data/IP editor of TWICE's sister publication Wireless Week.
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