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Wireless networks shift into high gear

A wireless broadband service will tap new technology to offer speeds 20 times faster than dial-up. Will other carriers follow suit?

A wireless Net service provider Tuesday unveiled a new broadband service that it claims offers speeds 20 times faster than typical dial-up services.

Monet Mobile Networks, based in Kirkland, Wash., announced its Monet Broadband service in Duluth, Minn., Tuesday. The network will be one of the first in the United States to take advantage of the CDMA20001x EV-DO wireless standard, according to the company.

By November, Monet plans to offer the wireless broadband network in several cities in North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

EV-DO, for short, is a wireless technology standard that offers downloads over a wireless network at speeds of up to 2.4Mbps. By contrast, the fastest wireless networks currently available offer speeds of up to 144kbps--although average user speeds may vary.

Networks based on EV-DO, with improved download speeds, could allow carriers to sell services such as MP3 file downloads, said Perry LaForge, executive director of the CDMA Development Group.

"In terms of wide-area networks, this is the fastest, and something carriers have been looking forward to," LaForge said.

Leading wireless carriers Verizon Wireless and Sprint PCS may be considering building similar networks based on EV-DO by 2005, sources close to the companies said.

Both carriers use wireless technology known as code division multiple access (CDMA) from Qualcomm in their networks. Only carriers that are already using CDMA technology can adopt the EV-DO wireless standard.

Verizon Wireless is testing EV-DO networks in San Diego and Washington, D.C., according to a company representative. Sprint PCS could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

LaForge, however, said Sprint PCS intends to monitor the success of new wireless Web services it launched two months ago before tackling the addition of EV-DO to its networks.

SK Telecom and KT Freetel, both located in South Korea, have launched commercial wireless networks based on EV-DO. SK Telecom launched in January, while KT Freetel debuted an EV-DO network during the World Cup soccer championships in June.

Making rural inroads
Monet plans to use its new high-speed network to bring broadband Web access to rural areas, said spokesman Steve Visintainer.

About 13 percent of the nation's homes have broadband service, a number that's grown dramatically over the past 18 months, according to a recent study by Strategy Analytics. Rural areas have been typically underserved, however, as a small customer base rarely justified the cost of extending expensive networks to certain communities.

"We've received a tremendous welcome by these communities which have been overlooked by most of the technology sector," Visintainer said.

For $40 a month, Monet offers subscribers unlimited Web access, three e-mail addresses and 5MB of data storage. For $60 a month, subscribers get unlimited Web access, five e-mail accounts and up to 25MB of storage.

Subscribers will need a wireless modem, made by GTRAN Wireless, which costs $330; with one year of service, the modem?s cost drops to $100.