Cingular Speeds Up Data Network

Cingular Wireless LLC last week launched its highest-speed data network service in several major U.S. cities.

Cingular Wireless LLC last week launched its highest-speed data network service in several major U.S. cities. And while the service is price-competitive with cellular data offerings from other carriers, it may be a tough sell against less expensive handheld e-mail access services and free Wi-Fi hot spots.

Based on HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access), Cingulars BroadbandConnect service provides average throughput rates of 400K bps to 700K bps, with bursts of up to 1M bps, said officials of the Atlanta-based company.

"Make no mistake about it: Wireless users want the speed and services theyve come to expect from their wired connections," said Cingular President and CEO Stan Sigman in a statement to an audience of investors at a New York conference.

Cingular is initially launching the BroadbandConnect service in Austin, Texas; Baltimore; Boston; Chicago; Dallas; Houston; Las Vegas; Phoenix; Portland, Ore.; Salt Lake City; San Diego; San Francisco; San Jose, Calif.; Seattle; Tacoma, Wash.; and Washington. The service should be available to "most major markets" by the end of next year, said Cingular spokesperson Ritch Blasi.

BroadbandConnect is currently available only for laptop computers, via modem cards and Cingulars Communication Manager software. The cards, offered by both Novatel Wireless Inc. and Sierra Wireless Inc., are backward-compatible with EDGE (Enhanced Data for Global Evolution) and most bands of GPRS (General Packet Radio Service), so customers can still use them in cities where the HSDPA service is not yet available.

Pricing for the modem cards is $299 with no service commitment, $249 with a one-year service commitment, and $199 with a two-year commitment (or $99 with a $100 rebate).

Initial service pricing ranges from $19.99 per month for 5MB of data with no service commitment to $79.99 per month for unlimited data with a one-year commitment. An unlimited data plan with a two-year commitment is $59.99 per month.

There are customers who are sold on high-speed cellular services, in spite of the expense.

"I prefer to use a network with whose security standing I have experience," said Christopher Bell, president and chief technology officer of Los Angeles-based Shopping Syndicate LLC, which operates the Dealhack online shopping site. "When Im traveling, I use it in hotels versus their broadband."