What Cingular, Verizon Have In Mind

While Sprint Nextel Corp. will likely be working with cable operators on new wireless-broadband applications, Cingular Wireless and Verizon Wireless also have next-generation offerings in the marketplace, plus more planned for the future.

Cingular Wireless has launched the second generation of its global systems for mobile communications (GSM) technology, dubbed “Edge,” which provides services at 70 Kilobits per second to 135 Kbps. It’s capable of streaming audio and video from Web sites to Cingular cell phone customers.

Some 13,000 cities and towns and 40,000 miles of highways, covering 80% of Cingular’s network, are now Edge-capable, said spokesman Ritch Blasi. There are about a dozen handsets, PDAs and other devices being marketing by manufacturers that are Edge-capable, he said. Consumers typically sign up for a flat rate service, starting at $79.99 a month, depending on bandwidth consumption in a month, ranging from 5 Megabits per second to unlimited-service packages.

Cingular will take a bigger step later this month, with the launch of Universal Mobile Telephone Service, based on HSDPA standards, Blasi said. The High-Speed Downlink Packet Access service will allow Cingular to offer 400 to 700 kilobit wireless service, greatly expanding video possibilities. In theory, HSDPA provides up to 14.4 megabit service, depending on technology concentration and usage patterns.

Cingular will launch the service in 18 markets, Blasi said, and have most major markets launched by the end of 2006, at pricing similar to its Edge lineup.

“The great thing is, it is backwards-compatible with Edge,” Blasi said, so users can roam from an Edge to a HSDPA area without losing service. Most wireless carriers around the world use GSM technology, Blasi said, allowing for Cingular to offer worldwide roaming to customers.

While Edge was launched as a software upgrade, the HSDPA service requires new hardware and software, which will cost Cingular about $1 billion, Blasi said. It will be the first widespread deployment of HSDPA in the U.S.

Although video services like MobiTV can run on Cingular’s Edge service, the HSDPA service, with its higher download rates, will make the video experience even better, he said.

Verizon uses the same CDMA technology as Sprint, and has launched two EVDO (Evolution Data Optimized) services. Broadband Access launched in January 2004 in 171 markets and 68 major airports, offering several megabit high-speed Internet access.

Earlier this year, Verizon Wireless launched Vcast, its video-to-cell phone content package.