Cingular Wireless, one of the largest mobile phone carriers in the U.S., said Tuesday it would move to GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) technology to offer customers fast wireless data connections.
The existing TDMA (Time Division Multiple Access) network will gradually be phased out as the GSM network is built and turned on. Customers will have to buy new handsets to take advantage of the new data services, Cingular said.
"We should have 50 percent of our current network served by GSM by year-end 2002 and are expecting the overlay to be in place in all of our markets by 2004," said a Cingular spokeswoman.
Nokia Corp, L.M. Ericsson Telephone Co. and Siemens AG will provide the network, services and handsets, Cingular said. Though financials details of the transactions among the companies were not revealed, the total package amounts to a multibillion-dollar deal, according to an Ericsson spokesman.
Cingular will deploy EDGE (Enhanced Data GSM Environment), which is a step above GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) and a form of 3G (third-generation) mobile services, Ericsson said. EDGE is capable of transmitting data at 384K bps (bits per second), while GPRS peaks at 114K bps.
Cingular, a joint venture of SBC Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp., already uses GSM technology for about a third of its network. GPRS service, an add-on to GSM for packet-switched data transfers, is offered in select regions. TDMA will be supported for an unspecified time. Cingular expects a smooth transition, with customers buying a new handset about every two years.
Customers will be offered special handsets that work on both TDMA and GSM networks, in addition to tri-band or "world" phones that work on GSM networks around the world, Cingular said.
The alternative to GSM and EDGE is CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access), which sits on top of TDMA networks and has Lucent Technologies Inc. as one of that technology's main suppliers. Cingular opted for GSM to be part of the worldwide GSM community, the spokeswoman said.
"GSM is the world's most popular phone technology for wireless networks. It will make it easier for our customers to engage in global roaming and we can welcome international travelers," she said.
Cingular rival AT&T Wireless Group Inc. announced a move to GSM and GPRS last year.