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AT&T Launches W-CDMA Handsets

Redmond, Wash. — AT&T Wireless launched commercial third-generation (3G) W-CDMA service in four markets in the 1.9MHz band and began selling a pair of hybrid W-CDMA/GSM phones from Motorola and Nokia at $299 each and a $149 Lucent/Novatel PC Card through its direct distribution channels, including AT&T-branded stores and enterprise sales.

Plans for indirect-channel distribution have not been announced.

At the time of the launch’s July 20 announcement, select enterprise customers had already been subscribing to the high-speed data/voice service in the four launch markets of Detroit, Phoenix, San Francisco and Seattle, chairman and CEO John Zeglis said. By the end of the year, the carrier will roll out commercial service in Dallas and San Diego. Around that time, AT&T Wireless expects to merge as planned with Cingular Wireless, a GSM carrier that also supports W-CDMA. Cingular plans to trial the service in Atlanta this summer and could begin rolling out service to other markets in 2005.

The merged entity, said Zeglis, will enable the two carriers to deploy W-CDMA “in more markets than we could do alone” because the merged entity will have more available spectrum in more markets to make room for the service.

CTO Rod Nelson compared W-CDMA’s data speeds favorably with the speeds of Verizon’s CDMA000 1xEV-DO network, claiming that “the customer experience is very similar” even though Verizon’s published speeds are “a bit faster” than W-CDMA’s expected speeds. He also cited W-CDMA advantages over EV-DO, including the ability to do simultaneous voice and data sessions over one phone and W-CDMA’s voice-capacity enhancement, which Nelson declined to quantify.

Nelson and Zeglis did quantify W-CDMA’s expected average throughputs of between 220 and 320kbps, with bursts up to 384kbps. Verizon Wireless claims EV-DO throughputs of 300-500kbp with bursts up to 2.4Mbps.

Nelson also said that his W-CDMA can be evolved with high-speed downlink packet access (HSPDA), which is expected to deliver a theoretical peak rate of 14.4Mbps compared to W-CDMA’s theoretical peak of 2Mbps. Zeglis said HSPDA is “definitely on the radar screen” but wouldn’t comment further until the Cingular merger is completed.

EV-DO is available from Verizon in San Diego and Washington, with plans to offer it nationwide in 2005. Sprint recently announced plans to offer EV-DO in “select” markets by the end of the year in a reversal of its plan to march straight to EV-DV technology, with expected 1-1.5Mbps average throughputs and simultaneous voice and data.

With W-CDMA, a new Real Network audio/video streaming service will deliver video at frame rates of 7 to 10 frames per second, a spokesman said. The service isn’t available on AT&T’s high-speed EDGE network. At those frame rates, said Zeglis, the service is not a “choppy glorified slideshow.”

EDGE, available nationwide from AT&T, delivers average throughputs of 70-80kbps or 100-130kbps, depending on the phone.

W-CDMA voice service is priced the same as GSM voice service. W-CDMA data service is priced at $24.99 per month for unlimited use. Real Networks AV service is an additional $5 per month. Enterprise users can buy an unlimited data plan for $79.99 per month.

AT&T is promoting the service in newspaper ads as a “marketwide hot spot,” Zeglis said.

AT&T’s W-CDMA handsets are the Motorola A845 and Nokia 6651, both candybar models. Motorola’s model operates in W-CDMA mode at 1.9MHz and in GSM/GPRS mode at 850, 1,800, and 1,900MHz. Nokia’s phone operates in GSM/GPRS and W-CDMA modes only at 1,900MHz. The Lucent/Novatel data card operates only in 1,900MHz W-CDMA mode.

The Motorola A845 features integrated MP3 player, MP3 download capability, 64MB embedded memory, Bluetooth, and dual VGA digital-still/videocameras, one to point and shoot and the other to take self portraits for video messages.

The Nokia 6651 imaging phone features VGA still camera with 10fps video capture, Bluetooth, voice recorder and hands-free speakerphone.