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March 31, 2006 1:17 am

Sprint Nextel speeds rollout of 3G network

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Sprint Nextel, the third-largest US mobile carrier, is accelerating the rollout of its 3G high-speed data network, which should reach a estimated 190m people by year end.

The network, dubbed ‘Sprint Power Vision’ and based on Qualcomm’s EVDO (Evolution Data Optimised) technology, is currently available to about 150m people, or half the US population.

At the same time, Sprint said it plans to begin upgrading the network to a second generation EVDO called EVDO Revision A, a wireless broadband technology that will deliver even faster download speeds for multimedia content including music and video up to 10 times faster than the first generation EVDO technology.

Both Sprint Nextel and Verizon Wireless, a joint venture between Verizon Communications and Britain’s Vodafone, are competing with Cingular Wireless, the market leader which is rolling out a 3G network based on a rival technology called HSDPA (High Speed Data Packet Access.)

Like mobile carriers elsewhere, the US wireless telecommunications companies view broadband data wireless services including video as the key to winning and retaining more lucrative customers and offsetting price pressure for basic mobile voice service.

Sprint Nextel, which will spend $6.3bn this year on upgrading its network, is betting heavily that consumers and business users will pay premium prices for services like mobile video and TV and music downloads.

Looking further ahead, Len Lauer, Sprint’s chief operating office told an investor conference in New York earlier this week that the carrier will select the technology that will power so called 4G services later this year and plans to begin deploy that technology next year using spectrum that Sprint Nextel already owns.

Mr Lauer claimed that this will give Sprint a significant lead over its rivals who are expected to bid for new spectrum that will be made available for 4G services in auctions organised by the Federal Communications Commission this summer. “We think we have about a two year lead,” Mr Lauer said.

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