Cingular maps out U.S. 3G rollout in 2005, 2006

Company will build network with equipment from a variety of vendors

Cingular Wireless plans to offer 3G (third-generation) mobile data service in a number of major U.S. urban and suburban markets next year and in most major U.S. markets by the end of 2006, the mobile operator announced Tuesday.

The service, using UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) technology with HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access), will deliver average data speeds between 400K bps (bits per second) and 700K bps, according to the company. Its merger with AT&T Wireless Services, concluded in October, gave Cingular the radio spectrum it needed to build the national service, a Cingular statement said.

Cingular will build the network using equipment from Lucent Technologies Inc., Siemens AG and Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson, Cingular said. It did not disclose the financial details of its contracts with the suppliers.

The rollout will be a significant one for UMTS, which is being adopted widely in Europe and Asia by operators that, like Cingular, use GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) technology. AT&T Wireless already offers commercial UMTS services in Dallas, Detroit, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle, which Cingular will continue to offer. Verizon Wireless Inc. has used another technology, CDMA2000-1x EV-DO (Code Division Mutiple Access 2000-1x Evolution-Data Only), to offer 3G services in 14 U.S. metropolitan areas. Verizon says that service averages 300K bps to 500K bps. Both can deliver even higher speeds in bursts.

The UMTS service will allow subscribers to use data services and make phone calls at the same time, according to Cingular. The operator envisions 3G applications such as high-speed mobile Internet access, enterprise productivity applications, audio and video streaming, high-resolution image capture and playback and multiplayer online gaming for consumers. Also Tuesday, Cingular announced that its strategic handset providers -- Nokia, Motorola and LG Electronics -- have committed to delivering UMTS devices in the fourth quarter of 2005.

Cingular currently offers nationwide data services over an EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Environment) network that delivers speeds as high as 135K bps. UMTS devices will be backward-compatible with EDGE networks in the near future, according to Cingular. Nokia, which has provided infrastructure for the EDGE network, has been awarded a two-year contract extension for GSM and EDGE network equipment, software and services, Cingular announced Tuesday.

Also Tuesday, Cingular announced it has started planning the integration of its network with that of AT&T. Combining the two will improve customers' coverage and service quality, the company said.

Cingular, based in Atlanta, is a joint venture of SBC Communications and BellSouth and has 46 million customers nationwide.