Verizon unveils wide 3G rollout plans

Verizon Wireless Inc. is promising a summer of speed to wide-area wireless data users in major U.S. cities.

The national mobile operator will roll out a fast cellular data service in many large U.S. cities during this summer, the company announced Thursday. Verizon shied away from giving greater detail on the timing, as well as on other aspects of the rollout, but summer in North America is generally considered June through August. The rollout will then continue, with additional markets phased in through 2005, according to the Bedminster, New Jersey, company.

The service, called BroadbandAccess, is based on CDMA2000 1x EV-DO (Code Division Multiple Access Evolution-Data Only). Nationwide, Verizon now offers voice and data services on CDMA2000 1x, which delivers roughly the speed of a dial-up Internet connection.

EV-DO boosts available data bandwidth to 300K bps to 500K bps, according to Verizon. BroadbandAccess is already available in the San Diego and Washington, D.C., metropolitan areas. Verizon Communications Inc. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Ivan Seidenberg was set to demonstrate it Thursday during a keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The company cites multiplayer gaming, music and video content and video messaging as promising uses of BroadbandAccess.

Thursday's announcement at last shows Verizon is committed to deploying EV-DO, said IDC analyst Shiv Bakhshi. The carrier may be trying to hold on to its customers following rival AT&T Wireless Services Inc.'s national rollout of the next version of GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) technology, called EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for Global Evolution). EDGE delivers slightly higher speed than Verizon's current national CDMA 2000-1x network, at 60K bps to 80K bps vs. 40K bps to 60K bps, Bakhshi said.

EV-DO takes Verizon way beyond that race, and AT&T is still only in the testing stage with its higher speed technology, WCDMA (Wideband CDMA), he said.

"As soon as AT&T did this, it lit a fire in Verizon's heart to do something," Bakhshi said. He believes Verizon had been planning eventually to roll out EV-DO.

"It was a timing issue, and the timing had to be prompted. ... This is not a cheap enterprise," he said. Verizon said it expects to spend about US$1 billion over the next two years rolling out the technology. The job involves adding software as well as hardware modules and in some cases radio equipment to existing cellular base stations, according to Ed Chao, a senior product manager at Lucent Technologies Inc., in Murray Hill, New Jersey, which supplied many of the base stations in Verizon's network and the EV-DO network in Washington, D.C.

The mobile operator currently offers just one client device for BroadbandAccess, the Verizon Wireless PC 5220 modem card for notebook PCs. It expects to be selling EV-DO PDAs (personal digital assistants) and voice-data handsets, as well as more models of modem cards, by the end of this year, said Jeffrey Nelson, a Verizon spokesman.

BroadbandAccess costs US$79.99 per month with a one-year contract. Through March 31, the PC 5220 card costs $149.99 after a $100 rebate with a two-year service agreement.

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