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Unstrung reports that Cingular Wireless has today become the first carrier in the U.S. to launch services using enhanced data for GSM environments (EDGE). Previously, it was speculated that rivals AT&T Wireless Services or T-Mobile USA would be first with the high speed (2.5 G) service.

EDGE is the next stepping stone on the path to third-generation cellular services, offering data transfer speeds of 80kbps – 120kbps. Cingular has so far only switched on the service in Indianapolis. But Unstrung reports, Tony Carter, Cingular’s senior PR manager, says the carrier will offer EDGE in a “handful” of markets by the end of this year.

EDGE is an enhancement to Cingular’s GSM networks that increases data transfer rates to a theoretical 384 kbit/s. Cingular is promising its customers initial data transfer rates of 75 kbit/s to 135 kbit/s. “This will be optimized as we get to

Nokia’s 6200 EDGE handset, is used in Cingular’s Indianapolis market. It can download content, applications and browse the Internet at data rates approximately two times that of conventional dial up. The Nokia 6200 supports Java for downloading personalized content and applications such as stock tracking programs and city guides. An optional Nokia Camera lets users capture and share images.

The Nokia 6200 phone is backwards compatible with GPRS and programmed to stay “on network.” If a customer travels from a Cingular EDGE coverage area to a Cingular area that has GPRS, the device will fall back to Cingular’s GPRS coverage, even while in a data session. Roaming fees are also the same for GPRS and EDGE.

Cingular is spending $1.3 billion this year on continuing GSM upgrades with a new GSM overlay with about 10 percent of that capital going towards EDGE updates. Moving to EDGE only requires a software upgrade so it’s relatively quick and cheap compared with a wholesale upgrade to full-blown 3G UMTS.

Ericsson is supplying the infrastructure for the Indianapolis launch. Nortel and Siemens AG also have EDGE contracts with Cingular reports Unstrung.

Cingular operates on two frequency bands in the U.S. — 850 MHz and 1900 MHz — and Indianapolis is one of the markets that straddles both bands. “We wanted somewhere that would allow us to test both,” explains Carter. GSM rival AT&T Wireless says that it does plan to have some EDGE markets up and running by the end of the year while T-Mobile has EDGE contracts but no announced plans for service launches yet.

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