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VoiceStream Pushes Toward EDGE

Signaling its dedication to expanding its network and upgrading to GSM/GPRS, VoiceStream Wireless Corp. Tuesday forged a three-year, $300 million deal with Nokia, under which the Finnish infrastructure provider will supply its EDGE-capable UltraSite base station solution for VoiceStream's GSM expansion into several major U.S. cities.

Bellevue, Wash.-based VoiceStream, a subsidiary of T-Mobile, offers GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) service on a national footprint in the U.S., except in California and Nevada. Last year it launched high-speed GPRS (General Packet Radio Service, a data-only standard which complements GSM) across its entire footprint as well. Actress Jamie Lee Curtis is pushing that service, dubbed iStream, on behalf of the company.

The deal with Nokia will help the company upgrade its service in certain coverage areas -- like Ohio and Arkansas. The UltraSite base station is a stepping stone to even faster technologies like EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for Global Evolution). GPRS enables average data transfer speeds of 40 kbps, whereas EDGE can achieve transmission speeds of up to 473 kbps. In addition to providing faster data transfer rates, EDGE can enhance voice quality and capacity.

VoiceStream plans to build an EDGE network by 2003.

The expansion will also aid Cingular Wireless, a joint venture of SBC and BellSouth. Cingular and VoiceStream sealed a roaming agreement in December that will supply both companies with nearly nationwide coverage by mid-year, including giving VoiceStream access to the California and Nevada markets.

VoiceStream's agreement with Nokia is an expansion of a relationship the two companies initiated in 1995, when Nokia first began to supply GSM network solutions to VoiceStream.

With the company's GPRS roadmap in place, VoiceStream is also undertaking a more aggressive play to become a dominant provider of wireless data services in the U.S. In January, the company acquired the assets of bankrupt wireless ISP (WISP) MobileStar Network Corp., allowing it to provide 802.11b wireless broadband service in more than 650 hotspots across the U.S., including Starbucks coffeehouses, airports, hotels and convention centers. VoiceStream Chief Executive Officer John Stanton thinks VoiceStream can provide a killer app by bringing GPRS and 802.11b technology together as a seamless service.

During a keynote speech at the CTIA Wireless 2002 conference in Orlando Monday, Stanton signaled the company's intention to do just that.

"By combining 802.11 and our existing GPRS service, customers will have access to the right technology at the right time," Stanton said. "Whether they need to have constant e-mail access on the go or predictable access to large files on demand, VoiceStream will be able to meet customer needs with coverage where they want it and speed when they need it."

By as early as next year, Stanton said the company will offer a combination GPRS and 802.11 PC Data Card and other handheld devices which will give customers seamless service between the two networks. The customers would be able to use the wide-ranging GPRS network -- with a speed comparable to standard dial-up connections and charges based on the amount of data transferred -- to access e-mail, alerts and other data with low-bandwidth requirements. Meanwhile, the same customer could transparently use 802.11 at hotspots on either a pay-as-you-go or fixed-fee basis to access larger data files with the same device.

The service will be marketed as GET MORE.

"By providing a seamless transfer across technologies for customers with one bill, one provider, VoiceStream will further deliver on our GET MORE promise to offer customers the best value in their wireless service," Stanton said.