Sprint PCS Taps 3Com for Wireless Data Access

Sprint Corp. said today it will use technology from 3Com Corp. to offer wireless data access services to its approximately 4 million Sprint PCS (Personal Communications Services) customers in the U.S.

Sprint will use 3Com's InterWorking Function (IWF) as the underlying technology for its Wireless Web Service, which was announced earlier this month and is due to be rolled out nationwide in late September. The wireless service will provide Sprint PCS customers with access to text data from the Internet and corporate intranets using a small Web browser embedded in their PCS phone, officials said.

3Com's IWF technology will also allow Sprint customers to hook up their PCS phone to a notebook computer and use it as a modem to access the Internet, saving them the expense of buying a separate wireless modem for their notebook, officials said.

While the bandwidth provided by the Sprint PCS service is only 14.4K bits per second, IWF will allow users to establish an Internet connection in less than 7 seconds -- much less than a standard dial-up modem, said Bennett Cardwell, director of wireless product management with 3Com's carrier systems division.

3Com's IWF platform serves as a "gateway" between the CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) wireless world and wireline networks, Cardwell said in a teleconference. "The CDMA IWF equipment connects directly to wireless switches to provide the interworking and protocol conversions required to deliver circuit-switched data capabilities to mobile data users," the company said in a statement.

Sprint hopes to upgrade its Wireless Web Service to support data transfer rates of as high as 128K bps by the end of 2000 or early the following year, said Keith Paglusch, senior vice president of operations with Sprint PCS.

The telecommunications company will face competition from other wireless providers in the U.S. promising similar data services, including Nextel Communications Inc. and VodaPhone Airtouch PLC. Sprint will differentiate itself with broader coverage and by the fact that it is offering the data services to all of its customers throughout the country simultaneously, he said.

"This is not a test. This is something that's happening today and will be available to all of our customers," Paglusch said.

Users who bought their Sprint PCS phone this year already have the microbrowser software they need for the data services, or can upgrade to it, Paglusch said. Some, but not all, Sprint PCS phones sold last year can also be upgraded to support the new data browsing capabilities, he said.

Customers currently paying US$29.95 per month or more for their PCS voice service can pay an additional $9.95 for a "sampler package" that includes 50 minutes of data use. Alternatively, customers can opt for a flat-rate voice/data bundle. For example, $59.95 buys 300 minutes of voice/data use, while $89.95 buys 500 minutes, Paglusch said.

The Wireless Web service also provides users with automated information updates from Yahoo Inc., with the frequency of the updates increasing depending on the data/voice package a user signs up for, he said.

Sprint's deal with 3Com isn't an exclusive one. 3Com has licensed its IWF technology to other service providers in the U.S. and elsewhere, Cardwell said, although he declined to say which companies are using it.

Financial terms of the deal with Sprint weren't disclosed, but Cardwell said 3Com charges around $1,600 per access port for its IWF platform. "As you can imagine, it takes quite a few ports to build a nationwide network," he added.

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