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Sprint’s 1X Goes National With Major Chains

Sprint PCS launched its nationwide CDMA 1X service with a smorgasbord of color-screen phones, wireless PDAs and wireless PC Card modems to satisfy what it believes is the high-speed hunger of wireless consumers and businesses.

RadioShack, Best Buy and Circuit City joined Sprint-owned stores as the primary launch pads for the first nationwide wireless high-speed packet-data service, dubbed PCS Vision.

Sprint said it priced its phones and services “competitively” with the GPRS offerings of AT&T, Cingular, and VoiceStream and Verizon’s CDMA 1X offerings. Those networks, however, don’t yet offer coverage throughout their footprints.

The modem-card prices and service, Sprint said, are more aggressive than competitors’ offerings.

Services include handset and laptop access to home or corporate e-mail accounts, with wireless synchronization and handset sharing of the e-mail address; fast handset microbrowsing, wireless e-mailing of digital pictures, downloading of graphics-rich games, and screensaver downloads. More capabilities will come later this year and early next, including streaming audio and video, a spokesperson said.

As promised, 1X was added to all Sprint-owned cell sites and to the majority of cell sites operated by Sprint-branded affiliates, delivering 1X service to “virtually every cell,” said a spokesman. Sprint’s cites deliver service to markets with 185 million people, and Sprint affiliates cover another 50 million people.

To promote availability, Sprint launched what it calls a multimillion dollar ad campaign that included new TV and radio ads and major-magazine ads. RadioShack devoted a full page in its Sunday circular to the service.

Phones available at launch consisted of three color-screen phones from Sanyo, Samsung and LG at respective suggested retails of $179, $229 and $299. Launch phones also include Handspring’s Treo 300 PDA-phone at a suggested $499, an add-on digital camera for the Samsung models at less than $100, and two wireless PC Card Type II modems from Novatel and Sierra Wireless at $249 and $349. The latter offers voice capability when an earbud is added.

Within weeks, Sprint said, authorized retailers will be offering another color-screen Samsung phone at $199, Hitachi’s first U.S. phone in about a decade at $299 with color screen, and an Audiovox-marketed Toshiba-brand PocketPC phone at $799. It doesn’t use Microsoft’s PocketPC Phone Edition software, which delivers tighter integration of phone and PDA functions than other PocketPC phones. A third PC Card, also with voice capability, will retail for a suggested $229.

The phones will deliver data at expected average rates of 50Kbps-70Kbps, but the PC Cards will benefit from compression technology to deliver data at rates two to five times faster than that, a spokesperson said. For e-mail, the carrier offers desktop software that can be loaded on a corporate PC to deliver a Blackberry-like e-mail experience, the spokesperson said.