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Cingular moves ahead with high-speed plans

Wireless company scurries to make up lost ground as it races rivals to deliver 3G services.

Cingular Wireless hopes to begin launching its first high-speed mobile services in 2005.

The wireless service provider on Tuesday issued a call to telecommunications equipment companies to develop various pieces that would be used in its UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) network. It has already signed up Lucent Technologies to provide equipment that currently supports data speeds of up to 2 megabits per second (mbps). The gear ultimately could support speeds of up to 14.4mbps.

The technology for Cingular's third-generation, or 3G, network is meant to help the company offer high-speed Internet access, wireless audio and video, full-motion video and advanced multiplayer games to both businesses and consumers.

Cingular plans to begin testing the system in Atlanta this summer.

But the company has some catching up to do. Even though it has agreed to buy out AT&T Wireless to become the No. 1 mobile operator in the United States, it lags behind Verizon Communications and other U.S. carriers in building 3G cell phone networks.

The choice of UMTS sets Cingular apart from Verizon, which is further along in using a system known as EV-DO (Evolution-Data Optimized). UMTS is based on GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) technology that supports data rates of up to 384 kilobits per second, Cingular said. An enhanced version called High Speed Downlink Packet Access would offer peak data rates of 14.4mbps. GSM is well-established in Europe but less widely used in the United States.

Cingular, a joint venture between SBC Communications and BellSouth, currently has more than 25 million voice and data customers in the United States. The deal to buy AT&T Wireless still awaits approval from U.S. regulators.