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Verizon Wireless to debut 3G

Assuming the launch isn't delayed, the company will become the first U.S. wireless carrier to offer commercial service from a third-generation network.

Verizon Wireless plans to launch commercial service on its next-generation phone network as early as next week, according to sources close to the company.

The so-called 3G service, which lets customers wirelessly surf the Net at faster speeds, among other services, will be offered in an area between Virginia and Boston, which includes New York and Washington, D.C, sources said. In the same time period, Verizon Wireless will also launch service in the San Francisco Bay Area, including Silicon Valley, according to sources.

A Verizon Wireless representative declined to comment.

If the launch isn't delayed, Verizon Wireless will become the first U.S. wireless carrier to offer commercial service from a third-generation (3G) network. Sprint will likely be the next carrier in the United States, 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.

But American 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.

Carriers around the world are building these new networks to keep pace with the growing number of cell phone users. 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.

These new networks also offer the ability for computers or phones to access the Internet as fast as a personal computer's dial-up Internet 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.

Verizon customers won't have to buy new phones to make calls using the network. But they will need new equipment if they want to use some of the expected offerings. New phones and wireless modems that will work on the 3G network are being stocked in stores now, sources said.

Dueling dial-up
Verizon Wireless and other 3G carriers are expected to use the new networks to challenge dial-up Internet service providers for customers. Verizon sources said the average Internet cruising speed on the network would be 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," said EarthLink spokesman Arley Baker. The company could possibly resell the high-speed wireless service to its own customers.

Sources wouldn't reveal any details on how much the Verizon Wireless service will cost or what people will be able to do on it. But in other 3G networks, such as the one NTT DoCoMo launched in September, customers can make video calls, for example. Many U.S. wireless carriers have said in the past that they plan to let people read e-mails with attachments over their phones, something not possible now.

A December announcement from Verizon Wireless offers some hints as to what might be coming up, though. The company announced at the time that about 20 companies participated in the trial of the network in Philadelphia.

Video delivered to personal digital assistants with a Net connection was one of the services tested, according to Sasson Darwish, president of Emblaze Systems, which participated in the trial. He said video news clips from Reuters and ESPN were sent to PDAs with a wireless connection.

Emblaze Systems also tested wireless messages that combined different media such as video attachments on an e-mail, Darwish said. So-called MMS, which stands for multimedia messaging, is one of the expected moneymakers from the new wireless networks, according to various analysts.

Games are also a likely offering. For example, the World Wrestling Federation has signed several deals with phone makers and wireless carriers to develop games based on its characters for 3G phones.