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FDIC banking on wireless future

The agency expects to begin a test program to outfit some of its road-weary bank examiners with the latest in wireless telephone technology.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation wants to ride 3G all the way to the bank.

The agency, which insures deposits in the nation's banks, expects to begin a test program later this year to outfit some of its 9,000 road-weary bank examiners with the latest in wireless telephone technology commonly referred to as 3G, or third generation.

The pilot program crafted by David Sequeira, who heads the FDIC's corporate telecommunications division, still needs approval from the FDIC hierarchy, though. It will go before the FDIC leadership sometime in August, he said.

3G wireless technology, expected later this year and in early 2002, will allow digital voice calls in addition to always-on, high-speed Internet connections. These mobile data connections will allow people to, for example, access a corporate office network remotely via wireless devices.

Sequeira said the goal is to make life easier for the bank examiners who travel around the nation checking bank records. Many of the nation's nearly 10,000 banks are located in rural areas that lack the communications equipment needed for examiners to do their jobs, he said.

Sometimes, FDIC examiners will pay to have a new set of telephone lines installed in some of the more rural banks to access the huge amounts of data they need to see in the FDIC databases, he said.

"Oftentimes they are in locations where you are fighting for a phone line with two other people," he said.

If the proposal is approved, it would make the FDIC the first government agency to begin trials with a third-generation phone network, which promises always-on cell phone connections capable of reaching broadband speeds, and could spur more agencies into action.

The FDIC is a likely candidate for setting government precedents. After all, the financial industry, along with the medical profession, is among the earliest users of new wireless technologies.

The financial industry is expected to embrace the use of wireless devices, according to a report released Thursday by Jupiter Media Metrix. The industry watchdog says about 13 percent of all stock trades made online will come from wireless devices by 2006, up from today's 3 percent.

Sequeira said the agency is already working with AT&T Wireless, Sprint PCS and Verizon Wireless, which are all in the middle of building out their own next-generation phone networks in the hopes of offering an always-on connection capable of broadband speeds for tens of millions of American cell phone customers.

Verizon and Sprint expect to have their 3G networks up and running by the end of the year.