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Verizon Wireless unleashes 3G service

The service, which lets customers wirelessly surf the Net at faster speeds, is being offered in areas of the East Coast as well as the San Francisco Bay Area.

Verizon Wireless launched commercial service of its next-generation phone network Monday.

As first reported by CNET, the so-called 3G service, which lets customers wirelessly surf the Net at faster speeds, among other services, is being offered in an area between Virginia and Boston, which includes New York and Washington, D.C., as well as the San Francisco Bay Area, including Silicon Valley.

With the launch, Verizon Wireless becomes the first U.S. wireless carrier to offer commercial service from a third-generation (3G) network.

The new Express Network service will enable laptop computers and PDAs (personal digital assistants) to access the Internet, intranet and e-mail. Typical speeds will be 40 to 60 kilobits per second, but can be as fast as 144 kbps.

Verizon Wireless expects to eventually offer mobile phones that can surf the Internet as quickly as a PC dial-up connection. Most Verizon Wireless phones can surf the Internet now, but at a speed about five times slower than what's expected to debut next week.

Carriers around the world are building these new networks to keep pace with the growing number of cell phone customers. The networks double the number of cell phone calls that can be made at any one time. But whether they help to solve another problem facing wireless carriers--the many areas where cell phone coverage isn't available--depends on how quickly national networks can be built.

Sprint will likely be the next carrier in the United States to offer 3G services, having already said it plans to offer service from its 3G network in the next few months. Pending the availability of new handsets, AT&T Wireless plans to offer service on a 3G network sometime by the end of the year, according to a company representative.

Gartner analyst Phil Redman says that by jumping out first in the market for next-generation 3G wireless service in North America, Verizon Wireless brings sharper attention to the developing packet data market.

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But U.S. carriers have already been beaten in the race to offer 3G. Japanese carrier NTT DoCoMo said it launched the world's first 3G network in late September.

Verizon Wireless and other 3G carriers are expected to use the new networks to challenge dial-up Internet service providers for customers. Verizon said the average Internet cruising speed on the network is about the same as those offered by America Online and other dial-up service providers.

Some have already taken notice. EarthLink participated in a trial run of the Verizon Wireless network in Philadelphia. "We're talking to them about maybe doing a broader trial in a larger area," EarthLink spokesman Arley Baker said. The company could possibly resell the high-speed wireless service to its own customers.