AT&T to shut down CDPD wireless network

By , IDG News Service |  Networking

AT&T Wireless Services Inc. next March 30 will stop selling new accounts for corporate data services over its CDPD (Cellular Digital Packet Data) network and in June 2004 will shut down the network, the company confirmed Monday.

The mobile operator stopped selling new contracts for its consumer CDPD service, PocketNet, in April when it kicked off its GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) offering, called mMode.

The CDPD network, which provides throughput no higher than 19.2K bps (bits per second), has been supplanted by the faster GPRS, said AT&T Wireless spokesman Jeremy Pemble. GPRS typically delivers 25K bps to 30K bps to handheld devices and 35K bps to 60K bps to wireless PC modems, he said. Unlike with CDPD, AT&T offers international roaming services for GPRS phones. Both types of services are on all the time and are charged for by number of packets exchanged rather than time spent on the network.

AT&T Wireless, in Redmond, Washington, recently completed a network that provides GSM (Global System for Mobile communication) voice and GPRS high-speed data services to about 5,000 towns and cities in the U.S. GPRS is the first step in the migration from GSM, widely used in Europe and Asia, to more advanced mobile data systems. These include EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for Global Evolution) and WCDMA (Wideband Code-Division Multiple Access), a form of 3G (third-generation) mobile data. Some time next year, AT&T will begin rolling out EDGE, which should deliver about 118K bps on a handheld device, Pemble said.

The CDPD network, which AT&T Wireless built in the mid-1990s, covers about 2,000 cities in the U.S. It is used in some large enterprises by mobile workers such as truck drivers, Pemble said. Because they often use specialized devices such as dispatching computers with integrated CDPD modems, it may take time for these customers to change over to GPRS. The carrier wants to give the corporate customers a long lead time before they need to change to another type of service.

Many customers of the consumer PocketNet service have already migrated to mMode, according to Pemble. They tend to be early adopters of new technology, he added. Whereas PocketNet provided only e-mail access and a small amount of content such as news and sports updates, mMode includes a wide variety of other services including local entertainment information, a tool for locating friends and instant messaging. Theoretically, consumers should be able to continue using PocketNet until June 30, 2004, when the CDPD network is shut down, but most are on one-year service contracts that will expire before that time.

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