Cingular launches global 3G data plan

Service will eliminate exorbitant roaming charges

Cingular became the first of the wireless carriers this week to offer business users a single tri-band (850/1900/2100MHz) data card for its 3G, EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution), and GPRS networks.

The Option GlobeTrotter GT Max LaptopConnect card, a name that in print is most likely longer than the data card itself, will ship next month. Although 3G and tri-band technology is not new, the single rate plan for international travel is.

According to Laura Johnson, senior director of  Enterprise Solutions at Cingular, the carrier's competitors only offer a two-card solution and users must pay high roaming fees outside the United States.

"If you roam outside the United States you pay.0195 cents per kilobyte," Johnson said.

At those rates, 1MB of data would cost approximately $20.

The Cingular flat rate is $109.99 for 100MB for calls within North America only, and $139.99 for 100MB for calls in North America and worldwide.

Currently, Cingular has service in 95 countries and 3G service in 16 metropolitan areas in the United States, which equates to about 52 cities. 3G service rollouts will continue through the remainder of this year, Johnson said.

The phones are backward-compatible with GPRS with a 35Kbps to 40Kbps performance, EDGE with a 70Kbps to 135Kbps performance, and 3G with a real-world performance of 400Kbps to 700Kbps, according to Johnson.

David Hayden, chief wireless analyst at Gramercy Ventures Advisors, said the flat rate plan rather than the tri-band capability is the lynchpin to its success.

"The key is no other carrier is offering a single [worldwide] roaming data plan," Hayden said.

The service also includes software that supports a notebooks-embedded Wi-Fi radio.

Hayden believes that in the short run high-speed data cards complement Wi-Fi service, saying it is not just about access but about performance, but Johnson added that in the long run, 3G will slow the pace of Wi-Fi hotspot deployments.

In the second quarter, Cingular also will add additional enterprise management capabilities, including remote management to ensure that clients launch their VPNs or personal firewalls before they access the corporate network.