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Next-Generation Access -- Anywhere

Sprint offers nationwide mobile-phone access to E-mail and Web browsing
Marking a milestone for the U.S. mobile-phone market, Sprint PCS last week became the first wireless provider to offer nationwide access to high-speed, third-generation phone services such as Web browsing and E-mail access.

The service, called PCS Vision, is based on CDMA 2000 1X technology. Sprint says it will offer data speeds of up to 144 Kbps, with average speeds of 50 to 70 Kbps.

Other wireless service providers, including AT&T, Cingular, and Verizon, have had similar networks up for as long as a year but only in selected cities. Sprint's entire national network is now third generation, or 3G, making it accessible to roughly 87% of the U.S. population.

PCS Business Connection, an organizer and E-mail device aimed at business users, is set to compete with wireless E-mail devices such as Research In Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry. For a setup fee of $250 and monthly charges of $10 per device, mobile employees can access Microsoft Outlook or Lotus Notes E-mail using the phones. The system supports virtual private network, frame relay, and Secure Sockets Layer access administered through a Web interface.

It's unlikely that the Sprint network will be successful overnight, especially in light of the slow adoption of competitors' 3G services, says Mark Lowenstein, managing director at consulting firm Mobile Ecosystem.

"People aren't going to be lining up outside of Sprint stores," Lowenstein says. Instead, he expects consumer demand to slowly drive growth, while businesses decide whether they're ready to commit the money and effort to switch to third-generation wireless service. "It's going to be a zero-sum game," he says. "It will either bomb, or it's going to be huge."