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Need For More Data Speed Gets Wireless Focus

Multi-megabit wireless-data speeds promised by Mobile WiMAX and by other wireless technologies will drive carrier revenue growth as the voice market matures, consumers demand a desktop-like Internet experience on the go, and suppliers embed wireless chips in everyday devices such as digital cameras, top industry executives said here during CTIA Wireless 2008.

With that potential in mind, suppliers such as Nokia, Motorola and Samsung unveiled WiMAX devices in anticipation of the second-quarter launch of an IP-based Mobile WiMAX network by Sprint in Baltimore, Chicago and Washington.

The devices include Nokia’s Web-browsing N810 WiMAX Edition, an Internet tablet with Wi-Fi, touchscreen and slide-out QWERTY keyboard due in time for Sprint’s launch at an unannounced price. The product will be sold to retailers and on Nokia’s Web site, said Nokia North America president Mark Louison.

For its part, Samsung introduced the tablet-style Q1 ultra-mobile PC (UMPC) with 7-inch touchscreen, Vista Home Premium OS and small QWERTY keyboard split down the middle with keys on the left and right sides of the screen. The dual-band device operates in the U.S. 2.5GHz band and foreign 2.3GHz band. It will be available in the summer.

For other portable computing devices, Samsung introduced the 2.5GHz-band SWC-E100 Express Card modem, due in June with peak download speeds of 10Mbps and peak upload speeds of 3Mbps. It will be followed later in the second half by a dual-band 2.3/2.5GHz card.

In WiMAX PC Cards, Motorola showed a dual-band 2.3/2.5GHz model already available in other countries. A home modem available in 2.3GHz, 2.5GHz or 3.5GHz versions features embedded VoIP technology to deliver Internet calling through an analog residential phone plugged into it. A desktop 2.5GHz WiMAX modem, shaped like a small black cube, connects to multiple PCs via embedded Wi-Fi. It also features VoIP and phone jack and is available for shipment.

Meantime, carrier AT&T Mobility stressed that it will evolve its HSPA (high-speed packet access) network to accelerate data rates to devices from the current peak of 3.6Mbps to 7.2Mbps by late this year or early 2009. The carrier will further accelerate HSPA speeds to 21Mbps or 28Mbps around 2010, said Kristin Rinne, AT&T’s architecture and planning senior VP. Those speeds would roughly match peak WiMAX rates expected to exceed 20Mbps.

Such speeds will further accelerate consumers’ growing preference for what Arun Sarin, CEO of global carrier Vodafone, called consumers’ preference to “communicate in new ways,” including texting, instant messaging and social networking.

Carrier investments in high-speed data, including HSPA and LTE [Long Term Evolution], are needed to satisfy consumer demand for a “mobile Internet similar to the PC Internet” and to meet demand for using PC applications on mobile phones, he added during a keynote speech.

In a separate keynote, Sprint Nextel president/CEO Dan Hesse said multi-megabit upload and download speeds will enable “real-time visual social networking on mobile devices” and video streaming to back-seat car video systems.

AT&T Mobility president/COO Ralph de la Vega pointed out that U.S. wireless penetration exceeded 85 percent of the U.S. population at the end of 2007 and that wireless data could drive penetration rates beyond 100 percent “if we put wireless in devices,” including more laptops. Verizon Wireless president/CEO Lowell McAdam pointed to wireless chips embedded in digital cameras that would send pictures direct to photo-sharing sites.

LTE and future WiMAX evolutions promise peak speeds up to 100Mbps, AT&T’s Rinne told TWICE.