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Hunt heats up for mobile's holy grail

Nokia and Ericsson say they've independently made breakthroughs in cell phone equipment that uses wideband-CDMA, a mobile standard that's expected to dominate the industry.

Nokia and Ericsson said Tuesday they've each separately reached milestones for cell phone equipment that uses wideband-CDMA, the cell phone standard expected to dominate its rivals by 2005.

Wideband-CDMA (w-CDMA) triples the calling capacity of any cell phone network. It also creates a wireless Web with download speeds that are seven times faster than dial-up Web services such as America Online. It's expected to dominate the world stage because any wireless carrier, regardless of the type of cell phone network it has, can upgrade to w-CDMA, which is not the case for rival cell phone standards like GPRS (General Packet Radio Service).

On Thursday, Nokia intends to announce that w-CDMA cell phones it developed now meet the requirements set by the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), a cell phone standards body. The 3GPP seal of approval is considered vital for any new generation of phone equipment.

Nokia plans to start selling the phones by the end of the year, likely to NTT DoCoMo customers, the company said. Prices and an exact release date were not available Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Ericsson said Tuesday that it had completed what it claims to be the first-ever telephone call that began on a w-CDMA network, then roamed onto a network based on GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications), the world's most popular phone standard.

The phones used during the Ericsson test calls were created by Sony Ericsson, the cell phone manufacturer created through a partnership between telecom equipment maker Ericsson and entertainment company Sony.

"Now we can offer mobile phone manufacturers a complete platform," meaning all the software and equipment involved, said Tord Wingren, Ericsson Mobile Platforms division president, in a statement. He did not disclose a sell date or the prices of the phones.

Japanese mobile operator NTT DoCoMo has the world's only working w-CDMA network, but most other carriers are expected to finish upgrading from their current networks to w-CDMA by 2005, said Alan Reiter, president of wireless consulting firm Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing.

"It's nice that Ericsson and Nokia are committing their resources to w-CDMA during this awful market," Reiter said of the Tuesday announcements. "But we will see a lot more hype than actual implementation for the next two years."