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AT&T Wireless to shutter old network

The CDPD phone network, which the company used to sell wireless Web service, is undergoing a forced retirement and will shut by 2004.

A phone network used by AT&T Wireless to sell wireless Web service is undergoing a forced retirement.

By 2004, the carrier will shutter its Cellular Digital Packet Data (CDPD) network, which for eight years has been sending e-mails or Web pages to phones at 19.2kbps, company spokesman Jeremy Pemble said Thursday.

The carrier plans to stop selling CDPD service by March 31, 2003, and have the network shut down by the end of that year. The CDPD equipment might then be sold to other carriers, Pemble said.

"We're giving our customers a couple of years' notice," Pemble said.

AT&T Wireless will try to "migrate" the displaced customers to a different network capable of 40kbps to 60kbps downloads. The new network, which AT&T sells under the name "mMode," uses the General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) standard.

An undisclosed number of subscribers to AT&T Wireless' PocketNet wireless Web service make up part of the company's current CDPD users. Many of those same subscribers have signed up for mMode services, which cost between $4 and $13 a month, Pemble said. The carrier stopped selling PocketNet subscriptions in April.

The CDPD network is also used by shipping companies to locate trucks, Pemble said.

Cingular Wireless is another cell phone network service provider still using CDPD. A company representative reached Wednesday did not know of the carrier's plans, if any, for the CDPD portion of its network. Cingular has another data-only network, known as Mobitex, used to offer wireless services for devices like Research in Motion's BlackBerry and Palm's i705 handheld device.

CDPD was one of the earliest techniques AT&T Wireless and other carriers used to sell wireless Web services to businesses and cell phone owners. Both CDPD and GPRS phones pack a single file with all the necessary coding a phone needs to download a Web site or e-mail.

But GPRS phones are always connected to the Internet, making them faster. CDPD phones have to wait for a lull in a telephone network's voice traffic before sending files along.

AT&T Wireless built a CDPD network that stretched nationwide, but had what Pemble described as "gaping holes" that included major metropolitan areas such as Chicago. The carrier had to make roaming agreements with the companies such as Cingular to cover the blacked-out cities.