Sprint, the third largest US mobile network operator, began offering a new 3G broadband wireless data service to customers and said the service would be available in business districts and airports in 34 markets this month.
The mobile internet service, based on a technology called EV-DO (evolution data-optimised) will compete directly with the 3G service launched in 2003 by Verizon Wireless, the second largest US mobile operator, using the same technology.
Both Verizon Wireless and Sprint both operate networks based on Qualcomm’s CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) technology that competes with GSM-based systems including the Cingular Wireless network in the US.
Sprint, which is in the process of acquiring Nextel Communications for $35bn, said it plans to provide the service initially in 14 broad market areas covering a population of about 92m this quarter.
It plans to expand availability to cover 143m people by the fourth quarter and 150m potential customers in 60 major metropolitan markets early next year.
The new 3G service is expected to support average access speeds of between 400kbps (kilobits per second) and 700kbps - or roughly ten faster than its current CDMA 1xRTT network.
The US wireless carrier will offer customers a range of monthly data plans including a $40-a-month basic plan for up to 40Mb of data and a $80-a-month fee for unlimited access – the same as Verizon Wireless.
Sprint plans to introduce EV-DO mobile phones and applications for consumers and business customers in the fourth quarter.
Verizon Wireless, a joint venture between Verizon Communications and Britain’s Vodafone group, currently offers the 3G service in about 50 markets and plans to extend coverage to reach about150m potential subscribers by the end of this year.
Cingular Wireless, a joint venture between SBC Communications and BellSouth, plans to offer 3G broadband data services based on a rival technology in about 15 to 20 markets by year end.
Like mobile carriers elsewhere, US operators are counting on 3G data services including mobile email, TV and video clips to offset the continued erosion of voice revenues. Sprint’s wireless data revenue grew by 14 per cent in the first quarter and represented approximately 10 per cent of customer service revenue.