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AT&T Wireless Throws Down the Gauntlet in Race to 3G

AT&T Wireless Tuesday pushed ahead to set the tempo in the wireless industry's race to deliver 3G services by rolling out 2.5G services for Seattle businesses. The newly independent wireless carrier said it will roll out its Global System for Mobile Communications/General Packet Radio Service (GSM/GPRS) network to about 40 percent of the market it serves this year and will cover 100 percent by the end of 2002.

The deployment of the GSM/GPRS network lays the foundation for the eventual shift to full 3G protocols.

Tuesday's rollout will give Seattle businesses access to information via wireless handsets at data speeds up to 10 times faster than speeds currently available on other existing domestic networks, the company said.

"The combination of our 3G technology choice [Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) -- based on GSM], spectrum portfolio, people, partners and financial strength is how we're delivering tomorrow's advanced wireless data services today -- and we're doing it first in our hometown," said John Zeglis, chairman and chief executive officer of AT&T Wireless. "It's been just one week since our split-off from AT&T and we've hit the ground running as the first North American carrier to offer customers an enticing taste of next generation technology."

Seattle businesses will be the first to have the opportunity to take the new services for a test drive. In addition to basic features like mobile Internet and e-mail access, two-way text messaging, voice mail and multi-party calling, "first time" services will include unified messaging and always-on high-speed data.

The unified messaging feature will allow customers to combine their voicemail and e-mail messages in a single mailbox. Customers can choose to have their e-mail read to them over the phone and can even access their mailbox from their PCs. The company said the always-on high-speed data service allows customers to flip back and forth between voice and data services while on a phone -- either answering a voice call while using the mobile Internet or being notified of incoming e-mail while in voice mode.

The upgrade in protocols will also change pricing structures. Because GPRS transmits data via packets, AT&T Wireless will be able to charge by data sent or retrieved, not by airtime incurred. The company said combined data and voice services begin at $50 and include a 1MB allocation for data and a bucket of 400 voice minutes. Incremental use above the allocation will be billed at less than one cent per kilobyte.

Of course, the new services can't be accessed without phones that support the GSM and GPRS protocols. To make sure those services are available Motorola Tuesday made its Timeport 7382i GPRS-enabled handset available in the North American market. The phone is priced at $199.99 for AT&T Wireless customers, and features voice activation, Voice Note voice recorder, a WAP-enabled microbrowser, IrDA connectivity and a data port for connectivity to an external device that doesn't support IrDA. Additionally, with Starfish TrueSync software, the phone provides one-step multi-point synchronization with many PIM devices, desktop applications and services.

"Motorola and AT&T Wireless are working together to make GPRS a real benefit for consumers," said Tim Cawley, corporate vice president and general manager, North America Region, Motorola. "This means providing the ideal combination of service, applications and handsets. Our Timeport 7382i is designed to provide customers with the ultimate mobile communications experience -- both superior voice features and enhanced access to the mobile Internet."

The next step in AT&T Wireless' 3G rollout will be the deployment of EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution) beginning in 2002. Finally, the company will overlay UMTS -- also known as WCDMA -- starting in 2003. The company said it has enough spectrum to roll out GSM/GPRS in virtually all of the top 100 U.S. markets and to launch full 3G in more than 70 of the top U.S. markets.