AT&T Wireless gears up for 3G launch

The company says it has ordered the gear needed to meet investor NTT DoCoMo’s deadline for it to launch a next-generation cell phone network in the United States. [CNET News.com]

The U.S. carrier is facing a closing date of Dec. 31, 2004, to launch a high-speed 3G commercial service in four U.S. cities. If it does not meet the deadline, it will have to return about $6.2 billion of part-owner and partner NTT DoCoMo’s investment in the company.

Standards bodies define 3G as delivering 384 kilobits per second of Internet access to cell phones, which is about 10 times faster than the current AT&T Wireless network.

Cell phone service providers worldwide are building such networks because they triple the capacity for cell phone calls, allowing carriers to keep pace with the growing number of minutes used for such calls. To earn back construction costs, carriers plan to offer new services like downloadable videos or Virtual Private Networks.

AT&T Wireless has so far chosen Seattle and San Francisco for its launch of what is expected to be the first commercial UMTS service in the United States, said AT&T Wireless spokesman Ritch Blasi. Two other likely candidates are San Diego and Dallas, where the carrier has an ongoing UMTS trial, he said.

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