Sprint plans faster wireless data services

The company plans to start mobile Web access to broadband speeds before the end of the year.

Sprint on Tuesday announced plans to set up faster wireless data services as part of a $1 billion upgrade to its network.

The company said it will use Evolution-Data Optimized (EV-DO) technology, which lets customers surf the Net using a phone or other mobile device at speeds similar to those available with broadband.

EV-DO can transmit wireless data at speeds of 300kbps to 500kbps (kilobits per second). For downloads, the technology allows peak rates of up to 2.4mbps.

To avail themselves of the new service, Sprint customers will have to buy handsets or laptop connect cards that are enabled for use with EV-DO. Existing Sprint PCS Connection Cards and handsets will work at their current speeds within EV-DO service areas.

Initial testing of the company's technology began as an option for enhancing connectivity in rural areas, as part of a pilot project that started in 2002.

Sprint isn't the only company trying EV-DO. Earlier this year, Verizon Wireless announced plans to expand its EV-DO service nationwide, pumping $1 billion into the venture. The EV-DO technology is seen as a threat to EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution) technology, which is much slower.

Sprint hopes to launch its new service on a limited basis later this year and in metro markets next year.

In addition to changes related to EV-DO, the company's network upgrade also will include the adoption of a more-advanced version of CDMA (code division multiple access) technology, which is expected to be available from equipment vendors beginning in 2006.

The company expects to spend the $1 billion budgeted for the upgrade in 2005. Earlier, the company had expected to spend some of the money in 2006.

Sprint did not specify which markets would be included in the initial launch or which applications would be available. Pricing also was unavailable.

"Customers are telling Sprint they want applications that take advantage of the higher wireless speeds, and we intend to deliver," Sprint CEO Len Lauer said in a statement. "Imagine downloading music, videos and games to your wireless handset or laptop in a fraction of the time it takes today. Or download your company's product inventory or a spreadsheet of a couple hundred kilobytes in a matter of seconds. EV-DO makes it possible."

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