Wireless service hits DSL speeds

Several services on display here at the CTIA Wireless 2003 show offer a glimpse into a faster wireless future. Verizon Communications Inc., Novatel Wireless Inc., Navini Networks Inc., and IPWireless Inc. are among the vendors bringing DSL-type speeds to wireless networks.

Verizon plans to deploy its next-generation wireless service later this year, the company announced here this week. The planned fall launch of its1xEV-DO service should make it the first U.S. carrier to offer true so-called third-generation wireless connectivity.

The 1xEV-DO service, an upgrade to Verizon’s existing CDMA2000 1x-based Express Network, moves data at up to 2.4 megabits per second, with average speeds ranging from 300 kilobits per second to 1 mbps. That’s considerably faster than CDMA2000 1x’s maximum of 144 mbps, with typical speeds closer to those of a 56-kbps dial-up connection.

Waiting in the Wings

Verizon’s competition isn’t standing still. Waiting in the wings for users of GSM/GPRS networks– the principal rival to CDMA and its successors–is an upgrade called UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications Service), also known as Wideband CDMA, or W-CDMA. While no GSM/GPRS carrier has announced deployment plans, Novatel Wireless is showing its Merlin U530 UMTS PC Card modem, which will support speeds of up to 384 kbps.

The Merlin U530 was developed in cooperation with Lucent Technologies. It will be backward-compatible with GPRS and GSM, so in areas where the higher-speed networks are not deployed, the card will drop back to the lower-speed predecessors. The card has an audio jack, allowing users to make voice calls using a laptop or wireless-enabled PDA.

UMTS won’t be deployed for some time, however: A Novatel spokesperson said the technology is in trials and is unlikely to make a commercial debut before 2004 at the earliest.

Alternative Access

Meanwhile, at least two other CTIA exhibitors were showing off alternative wireless broadband technologies that have actually been deployed in small markets–and have both been tested by Sprint.

Navini Networks and IPWireless both offer DSL-type speeds without any of the hassles associated with earlier wireless broadband services. Those typically required elaborate hookups to dishes located within line of site of a transmitter.

Navini’s Ripwave and IPWireless’s technology both use external or PC Card modems, which makes service portable. Navini doesn’t promise cell-phone like portability–you probably wouldn’t easily be able to use it while driving, for example. But you could access your high-speed account both at home and at your office–assuming both were within network range. The company describes its service as “nomadic broadband.”

IPWireless says its technology can support users on the go. And neither IPWireless nor Navini requires the user to be within line of site.

Both companies are pitching their technology to wireless carriers as a means of competing with existing wired broadband offerings. The companies say the carriers could easily afford to offer service at prices competitive with today’s DSL rates and still make a profit.