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Cingular Readies For 2.5G Expansion

Cingular, the second-largest wireless digital phone company in the U.S., signed a five-year contract with Lucent Technologies Wednesday to supply its 2.5G network expansion.

While Lucent and Cingular officials would not comment on the dollar figure attached to the contract, they did say the contract was "significant" and the equipment on its way to Atlanta, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., would be used to bolster Cingular's existing wireless network, which has approximately 21 million customers.

Ichiro Kawasaki, Lucent spokesperson, said the contract begins immediately with technicians from both companies helping in the installation of the Flexent cells manufactured by Lucent.

"Cingular is increasing its capacity on those lines," Kawasaki said. "The equipment is compatible with the existing equipment on the network."

Lucent's Flexent product line uses one of the industry platforms for wireless phone technologies: the global system for mobile communications (GSM). The time division multiple access (TDMA) technology allows eight callers to share the same frequency on wireless systems, making it one of the more economical platforms to use in the relatively small spectrum allotted for consumer and commercial 2.5G/3G communications.

The deal is part of Cingular's rush to provide enhanced wireless Internet services on America's digital phones, a precursor to the 3G movement sweeping the rest of the world.

2.5G is considered the transition between 2G technology (digital personal communications systems (PCS) handsets) and true 3G communications, which will allow 384Kbps Internet speeds that transport data packets and phone calls at the same time. Cingular is offering packages starting at $14.99 a month.

Cingular announced last month it was the first wireless company in the U.S. to provide 2.5G services. Its testbed service was started in Seattle and will likely expand nationwide in the coming months.

However, the four cities named in Wednesday's contract are not the next four scheduled for 2.5G services, according to Clay Owen, Cingular spokesperson.

"The four cities mentioned aren't necessarily the next ones on our deployment," Owen said. "We're using Lucent equipment to fill in some of our needs for TDMA equipment in the area."

Cingular's deal with Lucent is by no means exclusive. The wireless provider also has TDMA equipment contracts with Nortel Networks and Ericsson.

Cingular is in a race to put distance between itself and competition from smaller digital phone companies like Sprint PCS, while fighting for marketshare with the number one digital phone provider in the country, Verizon Wireless.

Verizon Wireless, the wireless arm of telco giant Verizon Communications has more than 28 million users.

Cingular is the joint venture of two other incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs), BellSouth and SBC Communications .