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Nextel debuts wireless broadband service

Customers in North Carolina can get the service, which will give them high-speed wireless Net access on desktops, notebooks, pocket PCs and other devices.

Nextel Communications has started selling wireless broadband service, as it looks to fend off competition from cable and DSL service providers.

The Nextel Wireless Broadband service provides customers with high-speed wireless Net access on desktops, notebooks, pocket PCs and other devices. The company said Wednesday that the service is limited for now to three North Carolina cities: Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill. The carrier did not reveal future plans for the service.

Nextel and other top U.S. cell phone providers are upgrading their networks in an effort to challenge their wired broadband competitors. Once faster networks are in place, carriers can initiate their plans to sell broadband in areas cable or DSL (digital subscriber line) providers have overlooked.

But analysts expect that Nextel's biggest rival for now will be cell phone provider Verizon Wireless, which since September has been selling its own wireless broadband, called BroadbandAccess. Verizon is spending $1 billion during the next two years on a nationwide launch of the service.

"We're very confident of our place in the marketplace," Verizon Wireless spokesman Jeff Nelson said.

Nextel is offering four wireless broadband plans at different prices for consumers. Its lowest-price "Lite" service, which costs $35 a month, allows up to 150 megabytes of downloads a month. The most expensive plan is its "Platinum" service, which costs $75 a month for unlimited download use at much faster speeds.

Verizon's wireless broadband service costs $80 a month for unlimited use.

Nextel's service uses equipment from Flarion Technologies. It began testing the Flarion technology in late February in the Raleigh-Durham area.