3G Gets Real

Carriers eye improvements, services for next-gen networks.

Mobile business professionals got a glimpse into their future last week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, where faster third-generation networks—and the gear designed to work with them—suggested a world of fewer dropped calls, improved Internet access, better image quality and lower prices.

To fulfill such promises, carriers will be making significant improvements to their networks in the coming year. Verizon Wireless at the show announced it was expanding its 3G EvDO (Evolution Data Optimized) network to 12 more cities, with plans to further extend the network this year to cover 150 million users. Sprint Nextel also plans to turn on its 3G network this year, and Cingular Wireless will launch its own flavor of a next-generation network, UMTS/ HSDPA (High Speed Downline Packet Access), in the next two years.

Because data costs on 3G networks are lower than on traditional networks, prices for users will also come down, said carriers. This could expand the use of mobile devices in the enterprise beyond the senior management level, said Phillip Redman, an analyst with Gartner Inc., in Stamford, Conn.

But the ability to move bits faster with more reliability is the most promising advance of next-generation networks for business users, Redman said. "The need for speed always increases, not just over the phone but also over notebook computers, which every business user has," he said.

Others see the promise of more access to applications for business users.

"The evolution and availability of devices that run on these networks opens up a whole new set of possibilities for business users to access information and take part in communication," said Alex Slawsby, an analyst with IDC, in Framingham, Mass. "There could be enough bandwidth available for videoconference calls, which is consistently cited as one of the Blue Sky things around 3G."

"It provides the ability for devices to hold a lot more content and to run a broader range of applications users can access while mobile," Slawsby said. "It will bring about a new range of powerful devices that can better meet the needs of business users."

But despite the onslaught of faster networks and devices to run on them, the availability of compelling business applications has yet to be established.

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"In many ways, the technology is the easy part; there is still work that must be done to translate these technologies into killer applications for the enterprise," said Slawsby.

Verizon Wireless at the show launched Vcast, a consumer-focused multimedia service that will run on its 3G EvDO network. Vcast will let consumers access video, games and music on 3G handsets.

Among the new, so-called next- generation phones touted at the show was Samsungs i730 handset, which supports 3G 1xEvDO data. Packed into the device, which runs Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition for Pocket PC, is a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, 64MB of RAM for applications and an SDIO (SD input/output) memory card slot for expansion, built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, a 2.8-inch QVGA 65K color display, and a speakerphone.

The i730 will ship in the first quarter from Verizon, said sources. Pricing is not yet available.

Also at the show, BenQ America Corp. showcased its forthcoming PalmOne Inc. Treo look-alike, the BenQ P50 Pocket PC smart phone. The quadband GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) phone has built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, a 2.8-inch color screen, a 1.3-megapixel camera, a built-in keypad, 64MB of memory and an SDIO expansion slot, and a speakerphone. The P50 will ship next quarter. Pricing and carrier have not yet been determined.

New 3G phones werent the only gadgets on display at the CES that could prove compelling to business users.

Another new Samsung phone, the SPH-A800, includes a 2-megapixel camera and scanner capabilities that let a user scan a business card and automatically upload contact information to the phone. The SPH-A800 will be offered from Sprint this quarter. Pricing is not yet available.

Samsung at the show also unveiled a handset for users who like the nonintrusiveness of sending text messages but abhor the tediousness of keying in messages. The p207 lets users verbally address, compose and send SMS (Short Message Service) messages or e-mail. The p207 is due in March through Cingular Wireless. Pricing is not yet available.

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