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3G, the term, makes a comeback

After two years of avoiding the overhyped term, it's back in vogue at AT&T Wireless and others.

The term "3G" seems to have found its way out of the U.S. cell phone service provider doghouse.

The abbreviation stands for "third generation" cell phone technology that's capable of delivering broadbandlike Internet access. The "first generation" is considered to be analog phones. "Second generation" refers to digital devices capable of Net access only at dial-up speeds.

Some U.S. wireless carriers mistakenly hyped second-generation networks as 3G for months before the launch of the faster services, and a self-imposed boycott of the term ensued.

Since then, 3G has served as a reminder of what happens when early hype can't be met, joining other wireless technology developments such as WAP (Wireless Application Protocol), which initially failed to pique the interest of cell phone dialers.

But the earlier concerted effort by many service providers not to use the term 3G has seemingly ended.

"This is honest-to-goodness, world-class 3G," AT&T Wireless Chief Executive John Zeglis said Wednesday of a wireless broadband service the carrier launched this week in four cities, with two others to go online later this year.

AT&T Wireless' service is capable of a 200kbps (kilobits per second) to 400kbps Net experience, speeds recognized by most of the cell phone community as 3G.

Verizon Communications has so far been careful to avoid using the term to describe its BroadbandAccess product, which has download and upload speeds also considered 3G.

But not Nextel Communications. The nation's No. 6 cell phone carrier is using even faster technology to sell a wireless broadband service in several cities.

"This isn't 3G," a company representative said. "It's more like 4G."