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Lucent readies zippy new networks

The company is ready to license new cell phone technology it says will let carriers build telephone networks that are 10 times faster than anything now commercially available.

Lucent Technologies said Tuesday that it's ready to license new cell phone technology it says will let carriers build telephone networks that are 10 times faster than anything now commercially available.

The new Lucent silicon is meant for steroid-injected versions of present day digital cell phone networks, which break calls and other data into bits and bytes and send them along. The faster a network operates, the more calls, Web pages, e-mails or other services can go through.

Lucent's "turbo decoder" for cell phone handsets, developed by the company's Bell Labs and unveiled Tuesday, can translate those bits and bytes back into voices or Web pages at very high speeds--about 24mbps. That's a quantum leap from the 2.4mbps speeds managed by Japanese carrier NTT DoCoMo's network, the fastest commercial wireless network around.

The decoder for handsets is part of a one-two cell phone silicon punch from Lucent's research division. The effort started in October, when the company released another component of the technology that wirelessly dispatches calls or other kinds of data at up to 20mpbs.

The new Lucent technology is an attempt to spur carriers' interest in building faster cell phone networks, which could increase a network's capacity for calls, and help to sell cutting-edge wireless applications such as video phoning, which are supposed to create $20 billion in total revenue by 2006, according to Gartner Dataquest.

But many of Lucent's potential customers--those carriers using the standard Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM)--are instead heading in the opposite direction by either slowing down or canceling future plans.

GSM carrier AT&T Wireless says it's scaling back plans to build a phone network that could benefit from the Lucent technology. Many European carriers, nearly all of which use GSM, have canceled plans to build faster networks.

Lucent representative Adam Grossberg said the company isn't planning to produce its own equipment using the new technology until about 2006. But when such equipment does debut, it could spawn new services such as HDTV-quality broadcasts to handsets, the company said.

"If there's some market interest before (2006), we are in a position to get going," Grossberg said.