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AT&T Wireless: Sun, sand and 3G, anyone?

San Diego becomes a battleground for 3G wireless broadband, as AT&T Wireless debuts a service that competes with Verizon.

AT&T Wireless on Wednesday said its wireless broadband service is now available in San Diego, where it will compete for customers alongside Verizon Wireless.

The move makes the Southern California city the site of the first head-to-head battle between U.S. cell phone service providers that use 3G, or third-generation, network equipment.

Such next-generation cell phone gear, available in just a handful of markets, creates connections of between 200kbps (kilobits per second) and 500kbps, fast enough for downloadable music, movies or a business-class broadband service, but with the bonus of mobility. U.S. cell phone carriers believe such services will help earn back revenue lost from a brutal price war that's driving down profits from voice plans.

AT&T Wireless and Verizon use different cell phone standards, heating up the fight for network equipment makers. Verizon chose to offer services in the Southern California city, in part, to cater to Qualcomm, which is based there and whose CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) technology is at the core of the Verizon network. AT&T Wireless' network uses equipment based on a competing standard known as UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System).

Both AT&T Wireless and Verizon claim an edge in the battle for the sunny city. Verizon's BroadbandAccess is capable of between 300kbps and 500kbps downloads, a considerable speed advantage.

But AT&T Wireless says its service is available in twice as many states. It also lets subscribers make phone calls over the same network. Verizon's offerings are restricted to providing a Net connection for laptops.

In addition to San Diego, Verizon operates in Washington, D.C., and Las Vegas. Nextel Communications is also among the three U.S. cell phone service providers that use 3G. It operates a wireless broadband network in several major cities.