CES - Sprint, Nokia push new services, new phones

With all the hoopla that the major cell phone providers can muster here at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), wireless carriers are once again announcing the imminent deployment of 3G (third-generation) service and handsets.

Sprint Corp. announced a deal with Hitachi to bring the first Hitachi Ltd. phones to the United States deploying Sprint's 3G1X service. The Hitachi phones will ship sometime in the second half of 2002.

Sprint, along with Verizon Communications Inc., originally promised customers high-speed, 3G wireless data service on cell phones before the end of 2001. As that target faded the new deadline appears to be mid-2002.

The launch date for 3G service appears to be a continually moving target, and also in question is the actual level of performance that 3G phones will be able to achieve. On paper, the new service promises to send data at the rate of about 115Kbps, but most industry experts say that rate will only be achieved if a user is standing beneath the cell tower. More typical performance will be about 30Kbps to 40Kbps, some say as low as 20Kbps. Service on current phones, depending on the carrier, is between 14.4Kbps and 19.2Kbps.

The Sprint phones, according to Sprint officials, will give users the opportunity for "more robust" applications for gaming, video, and audio clips as well as higher speed Internet browsing.

The Hitachi phones are "expected" to include support for J2ME (Java 2 Micro Edition), which would allow software vendors and content providers to create hybrid applications that have a client component residing on the phone and a network component that would be accessed over the carriers' network, according to a Sprint news release by Sprint. When asked to name other handset manufacturers that would be deploying the Sprint service, the spokesman declined, saying nothing was being announced.

Nokia, one of the major handset manufacturers, but a company that works more closely with the GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) and TDMA (Time Division Multiple Access) carriers such as AT&T Wireless and Cingular, announced one of that company's first dual band phones. Dual band, or sometimes called World Phones, have the ability to work on two networks, automatically switching between carrier networks when the user travels, typically to a different country where a different network is supported.

In the United States, for example, TDMA, an altered version of the GSM network that is ubiquitous across Europe and much of Asia, is supported by AT&T Wireless and Cingular.

NokiaNew Nokia 6340 handset will allow users to travel using a single phone in most countries of the world. Like most GSM phones, the 6340 will allow SMS, short messaging service, text messages between phones whether in an area covered by TDMA or GSM.

The phone is expected to ship by the end of the first half of 2002.

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