Sprint Nextel Details Plans for 3G Upgrade
Stephen Lawson, IDG News Service
Fri Mar 31, 9:00 AM ET

Sprint Nextel plans to upgrade its Sprint Power Vision mobile broadband network for much higher upload speeds to become available in the first quarter of 2007, with a PC Card client that supports the new technology on sale in the third quarter of this year.

The Sprint Power Vision network uses a 3G (third-generation) technology called EvDO (Evolution-Data Optimized) and covers more than 150 million people in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, according to the company. The network will expand to cover an estimated 190 million people by the end of this year, Sprint Nextel said this week.

Meanwhile, the carrier plans to start upgrading the network to EvDO Revision A, which will fatten the pipe upstream from a subscriber's device to the network. The overlay technology will help subscribers use applications such as video telephony, video messaging, high-performance push-to-talk conversations, and uploading of large files such as presentations, Sprint Nextel said.

At the CTIA Wireless trade show in Las Vegas next week, Sprint Nextel and partners Nortel Networks, Novatel Wireless, and Sierra Wireless will demonstrate a PC Card that supports both the current network technology and Revision A. Sprint plans to start selling cards compatible with Revision A in the third quarter of this year.

Upstream speeds should increase to between 300 kilobits per second and 400 kbps from a current range of 70 kbps to 144 kbps, the company said. Downstream speeds are likely to show a more modest increase to 450-800 kbps from the current 400-700 kbps. The peak rate, now 2 mbps, will rise as high as 3.1 mbps, according to Sprint Nextel.

In the first quarter of next year, EvDO Revision A will reach about 214 million people, Sprint Nextel said. By the end of the third quarter of 2007, the overlay will be rolled out across the whole Sprint Power Vision network and will reach about 220 million people.

Sprint Nextel's other network, operated under the Nextel brand, is based on a different technology called iDEN, which doesn't have a 3G component, said Sprint Nextel spokesman John Polivka. It will remain separate from the Sprint network for the foreseeable future, he said.

Similar Plans

The other major mobile operators in the U.S. also are gearing up to capture the market for 3G services and the higher revenue it can bring.

Verizon Wireless reaches more than 150 million people around the country with its EvDO network, according to spokesman Jeffrey Nelson. Verizon also plans to roll out EvDO Revision A, Nelson said, but he would not give a target date for rollout.

Cingular Wireless, a joint venture of AT&T and BellSouth, said last month it was using UMTS HSDPA (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System High Speed Downlink Packet Access) in 16 major metropolitan areas and would expand that coverage to most major U.S. metropolitan areas this year.

Although U.S. mobile users have been slower than their European counterparts to adopt some data services, the country's mobile data market is potentially huge and attracting interest from vendors worldwide, according to Mark Donovan, senior vice president and senior analyst at M:Metrics, in Seattle. For example, in the U.S. in January, only 3.3 percent of mobile users downloaded a game, a lower percentage than in the U.K. and Germany. However, that percentage added up to about 6 million users, according to Donovan.