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Wireless Networks Prepare To Shift Data Into Overdrive

Carriers are gearing up to accelerate the speeds of their high-speed data networks.

During Wireless 2002, suppliers demonstrated CDMA 1x EV-DO infrastructure and PC card radiomodems to accelerate data rates to 2.4Mbps in mobile environments.

In GPRS and EDGE announcements, AT&T Wireless CTO Rod Nelson said his company will begin rapid deployment in the second half of 384Kbps EDGE technology, with trials starting in late 2002 or early 2003. “National commercial service could be launched quickly thereafter,” he said. “All major infrastructure vendors have EDGE nearly ready,” and EDGE handsets are in R&D, he continued. AT&T might begin deploying W-CDMA technology at 1.9GHz in 2003, he added.

At least one W-CDMA handset was demonstrated, a Panasonic model for the Japan market, where carrier NTT DoCoMo has launched the technology.

For its part, Cingular Wireless said it will have GPRS in all markets by early 2004, expects to start receiving EDGE network software by year’s end, and will begin adding the EDGE upgrade in 2003.

Meantime, one handset supplier said Verizon wants to launch EV-DO commercially in the fourth quarter. And Sprint PCS president Charles Levine publicly reiterated previous statements to TWICE about his plans: a midyear launch of 144Kbps-peak CDMA 1x. The carrier will then boost the peak data rate to 288Kbps by installing 1x Revision A and then add 3Mbps 1x EV-DV, which would be backward-compatible with EV-DO handsets and radiomodems.

Although Levine didn’t specify dates for launching the follow-on services, he told TWICE at CES that 288Kbps service would launch in select markets in mid- to late 2003 and that the service would also enable simultaneous voice and data transmission.

In hardware developments, Lucent and LG InfoComm demonstrated working CDMA 1x EV-DO base stations in conjunction with multiple radiomodems that included PC Card models, embedded modules for laptops, and an add-on Multiport module that attaches to the back of Compaq laptop screens.

LG demonstrated a 1x EV-DO phone and base station, both intended for the Korean market. U.S.-market base stations ship in July or August to a small data-only carrier, Seattle-based Monet, which offers 1x data-only service via PC Card radiomodems.

For its part, Lucent said its base stations would be generally available to carriers in June and are already being used in trials by Verizon in Washington.

Working EV-DO radiomodem prototypes were also demonstrated. They included a Sierra Wireless PC Card in use in the Verizon trial. AirPrime demonstrated a working prototype of an EV-DO embedded module intended for laptops. The 800/1900MHz module and AirPrime’s PC Card are part of the Verizon trial. AirPrime expects to ship a Korean version to a Korean carrier in midyear, followed perhaps late this year with small quantities of a U.S. version.