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With New Spectrum, Cingular Plots 3G Course

Cingular is making over AT&T Wireless Stores with new signage, but the changes are more than just window dressing.

Thanks to spectrum gained in the $41 billion acquisition, Cingular said it will build a third-generation network in several U.S. markets, starting next year.

The nation's largest mobile carrier didn't specify which cities would be first, saying only that it expects to offer 3G services to consumers and businesses in most major markets by the end of 2006.

The Atlanta-based carrier tapped Ericsson , Lucent and Siemens to develop and install infrastructure for the system.

Cingular also hired Nokia to upgrade its existing network and possibly support the deployment of its new network. And it lined up Nokia , Motorola and LG for new feature-rich handsets by the fourth quarter of 2005.

Neither Cingular, nor its vendors, will disclose financial terms, but the rollout is clearly a significant undertaking.

The 3G deployment, based on Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) with High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) systems, will enable Internet, audio and video streaming, digital image display and capture and multiplayer gaming.

According to Lucent, the technology lets customers have simultaneous voice and data sessions. HSDPA is a standardized upgrade of UMTS (also known as Wideband-CDMA) developed by the industry group 3G Partnership Project (3GPP).

It's the first large-scale commercial UMTS deployment for Lucent, spokesman Kurt Steinert, said. The gear has been tested in Europe (T-Mobile in Germany, Telefonica Moviles, Spain) and Asia (China Netcom in Shanghai, China), Steinert said.

Earlier this year, AT&T Wireless launched the country's first commercial UMTS wireless networks in Dallas, Detroit, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle. Cingular will continue to offer UMTS services in those six markets.

"Those cities that [AT&T Wireless] built out with UMTS are still up and running under the New Cingular-- and will continue to be," Clay Owen, a Cingular spokesman, told internetnews.com. "They will be eventually be upgraded with the HSDPA."

The move is designed to attract additional subscribers and add revenues since the company will be able to charge for new advanced services.

Cingular, a joint venture of SBC and BellSouth , views Verizon Wireless as its primary rival. A Verizon Wireless spokesman was not immediately available for comment.