Nokia Corp. has begun delivering high-speed network equipment to U.S. mobile operators that will open the door to the next generation of data services beyond those that can be offered using GPRS (General Packet Radio Service).
The company is now providing Cingular Wireless LLC and AT&T Wireless Group Inc. with equipment that supports EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for Global Evolution) service on a GSM (Global System for Mobile Communication) 800MHz and 1900MHz infrastructure. EDGE is the next stage in the evolution of GSM toward UMTS (Universal Mobile Telephone Service), commonly called 3G. EDGE is likely to deliver about 56K bps (bit-per-second) data throughput to handsets, a significant jump from typical GPRS speed of 30K bps, said Mike Walters, Nokia's business development manager for 3G. UMTS offers a theoretical maximum speed of 2M bps, though Walters declined to estimate what speed UMTS users will normally experience.
The two carriers currently are rolling out GSM networks with GPRS capability, and the new equipment will allow them to later offer EDGE services on those networks. The gear includes new Nokia UltraSite base stations, as well as EDGE-capable radios and baseband units for existing stations, and the necessary software, according to Nokia.
Cingular expects EDGE to be available in some markets by early 2003, depending on the availability of handsets, according to a Cingular spokeswoman who asked not be named. AT&T hopes to begin the rollout of its EDGE infrastructure in the second half of 2002, said spokesman Mike DiGioia.
The U.S. operators will be the first to receive the new, commercial equipment in volume, even though Europe traditionally has been perceived as well ahead of the U.S. in GSM and mobile services in general.
That perception is not entirely accurate, according to David Berndt, a wireless analyst at Yankee Group Inc., in Boston. In the area of GPRS, for example, the U.S. is catching up, he said.
"If you look at AT&T's rollout, it's on par with some of the European operators, and Cingular and VoiceStream (Wireless Corp.) aren't far behind," Berndt said. Europe is ahead in the development of data services to run on wireless networks, but the gap is diminishing, he said.
The EDGE gear will be delivered to European and Asian carriers in the next few weeks, according to Nokia.
Although EDGE falls short of the performance promised for UMTS, it will open the door to higher-speed data applications once it is set up, Berndt said. The key to its impact will be whether the carriers offer applications that users find appealing.
"Right now they have no clue what they're going to offer," Berndt said. He declined to speculate what uses of high-speed mobile data will catch on with users.
Meanwhile, other U.S. operators, including Sprint PCS Group and Verizon Wireless Inc., are following a different path to high-speed mobile data, evolving from their existing CDMA (Code-Division Multiple Access) networks. The rollout of high-speed networks and development of services on those networks may be more rapid because the migration path for CDMA technologically is more smooth, according to Berndt.