Speeding Up Wireless

Wireless providers are developing new products and services to crank up data transmission rates.

Whats good for the consumer can also be good for the enterprise, say carriers.

To that end, Verizon Wireless and AT&T Wireless Services Inc. are each developing products and services that speed up data transmission for games and corporate applications.

Verizon plans to expand during the year its high-speed CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) EV-DO (evolution-data optimized) network beyond its current test markets of San Diego and Washington. The service will be available in several major U.S. cities by this summer, with widespread coverage by next year, said officials at the Bedminster, N.J., company.

While declining to say in which cities, the officials said the company expects to invest $1 billion over the next two years to deploy EV-DO nationally, provided it has sufficient radio spectrum.

Offering speeds averaging 300K bps to 500K bps for the download and 40K bps to 60K bps to send data, EV-DO is based on CDMA technology from Qualcomm Inc. EV-DO is backward-compatible with Verizons national CDMA 1xRTT network. As a result, EV-DO users who travel outside a cell will automatically be switched to 1xRTT with no roaming charges.

When completed, the EV-DO network will compete with networks such as AT&T Wireless Services EDGE (enhanced data for GSM evolution) network, as well as wireless LANs—especially as Wi-Fi hot spots continue to proliferate and more businesses experiment with voice-over-WLAN technology.

Potential customers said theres still a definite need for third-generation WANs.

"For wireless laptops in hotels, airports and restaurants, Wi-Fi hot spots are the best solution for low-cost, high-bandwidth, interference-free connections," said John Halamka, CIO of CareGroup Health Systems, a Boston-area hospital network. "However, for mobile users with handheld devices, Wi-Fi hot spots are not likely to be widespread enough to provide roaming coverage. CDMA EV-DO is a great solution for these users."

Qualcomm has issued white papers to make a case for EV-DO over Wi-Fi, but critics say carriers still arent paying enough attention to wireless behind closed doors.

RadioFrame Networks Inc., which focuses entirely on extending wireless networks inside buildings, has had good luck in Europe but trouble getting the attention of U.S. carriers, said company officials in Bellevue, Wash.

Verizon officials at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week said the company is always working on improving in-building coverage. However, there are no immediate plans to team up with a company that focuses exclusively on the problem.

"Weve been looking at a lot of that stuff," said Dick Lynch, executive vice president and chief technology officer at Verizon Wireless. "A lot of it really doesnt make sense economically, and thats the bottom line."

Verizons price plan for EV-DO is $79.95 per month for unlimited service. The initial EV-DO product, a PC Card modem, costs $149.99 after a $100 rebate and a two-year contract agreement. EV-DO handsets will run proprietary operating systems, with handsets for Symbian OS, Palm OS and mobile operating systems from Microsoft Corp. appearing later. The company plans to roll out modems and phones for EV-DO throughout the year.

Meanwhile, AT&T Wireless is launching a U.S. version of Motorola Inc.s V600, a high-end camera phone for General Packet Radio Service networks. The device works in the 850-, 900-, 1800- and 1900MHz Global System for Mobile Communications bands, allowing it to handle voice calls in 125 countries and data transmissions in 30 countries where there are roaming agreements.

In addition to the camera, the phone includes a video player and support for MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) and Bluetooth wireless technology. It will be available next month for $299, said officials at AT&T Wireless, in Redmond, Wash.

Later this month, AT&T Wireless will introduce a Motorola phone for its high-speed EDGE network. The Motorola T725 also includes support for MMS.