Cingular Launches High-Speed Service

Cingular on Tuesday introduced its answer to Verizon and Sprint's wireless broadband offerings by launching BroadbandConnect, the first HSDPA-based 3G cellular data network in the United States. The service will initially be available in 16 major metropolitan areas, with plans to expand the network rapidly in 2006.

The first cities to receive Cingular BroadbandConnect will be Austin, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Portland, Ore., Salt Lake City, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Calif., Seattle/Tacoma, and Washington D.C..

The company says users with laptop cards would also be able to seamlessly switch between the high speed HSDPA/UMTS system and the older EDGE and GPRS networks without dropping a connection. Similar offerings from other wireless carriers will drop the connection when leaving the high-speed coverage area, Cingular said.

HSDPA promises data rates of 400-700kpbs with burst speeds of over 1Mbps. This is roughly equivalent to the speeds offered by Verizon's Broadband Access and Sprint's PowerVision CDMA/EV-DO based services.

"Make no mistake about it: Wireless users want the speed and services they've come to expect from their wired connections," Cingular president and CEO Stan Sigman said Tuesday at an investor conference in New York City. "Today Cingular is delivering on its promises to provide both the speed and reliability customers need."

The BroadbandConnect service will be available for unlimited use for $59.99 USD per month with a two-year contract. Cingular said it would also offer rate plans for less frequent usage, starting with $19.99 USD per month for five megabytes of data.

The company plans to release phones and services based on the HSDPA network early next year. Laptop cards will be available in the cities covered later this month, and across all of the company's stores beginning in January.

Cingular also played up GSM's continued dominance, saying that HSDPA was destined to become the world standard for 3G cellular service.

"HSDPA/UMTS gives us the singular advantage of offering simultaneous voice and data services to our customers. For businesses and consumers, this means more feature rich services and content," said Kris Rinne, chief technology officer for Cingular. "It also provides a lower cost method for carrying traffic and more efficient use of spectrum."

The announcement leaves T-Mobile USA as the only remaining major national carrier without an announced 3G service plan. While the company launched EDGE across its network late this summer, the fourth largest wireless provider is falling farther behind its competitors in offering data services to customers.

Rene Olbermann, Deustche Telekom's mobile chief, said in September that T-Mobile USA would offer 3G in 2007.

Some have suggested that the company's slow move to high-speed services could also be strategic, as except for Japan, 3G adoption across the world has been sluggish. Deutsche Telekom also is coming out of a tough period financially; at one point early in the decade the company was over $70 billion in debt.

A request for comment from T-Mobile had not been answered as of press time.

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