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Ready for Anything?

By Tammy Parker

The last operator to reach the wireless data realm may not be a rotten egg, as the old children's saying would have it, but cdmaOne operators in the United States are hustling to make sure they're among the first wireless operators to secure market shares in this potentially lucrative new arena.

Leading the way has been Sprint PCS, the United States' largest PCS operator. The company is establishing a beachhead in wireless data through a combination of data-friendly cdmaOne wireless terminals and a nationwide rollout of data service initiated in September 1999, plus a host of content and electronic commerce offerings. In addition, the operator is planning extensive testing of 1XRTT technology in early 2000 that should let it make further inroads into the data marketplace. On the content side, Sprint PCS has agreements with Phone.com and Yahoo! that will enable Sprint PCS customers to retrieve specific information content as well as access Yahoo! Web content and services such as stock quotes, weather reports and horoscopes.

New ground
Sprint PCS broke new ground in the United States by offering data services throughout its network from the start, rather than starting with just a few markets and following an incremental rollout. The operator also elected to price data communications by minutes of airtime used rather than by kilobytes transferred, a considerably easier concept for users to grasp.

Customers may add Sprint PCS Wireless Web services to their current price plans of $29.99 and above for a flat rate of $9.99 per month that includes 50 data minutes and 50 Yahoo! Updates. This allows a subscriber to easily add or drop data services without affecting their voice airtime package. Bundled voice/data packages start at $59.99 for 300 voice/data minutes and 200 Yahoo! Updates.

According to Mark Lowenstein, consultant with the Yankee Group: "The Yahoo! agreement is important because content is going to be an important differentiator. Sprint PCS has made the right move by waiting to roll this service out nationwide. The pricing structure is simple, priced to use and the connectivity software will be easy to install for the average user."

Besides the crucial agreement with Yahoo!, Sprint has signed numerous applications and content agreements with outside suppliers. For instance, GetThere.com will supply travel services to Sprint PCS Wireless Web subscribers while Ameritrade Holding, a leading online brokerage, is letting Sprint PCS customers access their accounts, place trades and receive stock alerts via the wireless network. Other content providers include CNN, Bloomberg, The Weather Channel, InfoSpace, and MapQuest, with many more promised to come.

All Sprint PCS phones have text messaging capabilities, such as existing Sprint PCS Short Messaging Services and numeric paging, and automatically will be capable of supporting Sprint PCS Wireless Web Updates from Yahoo!. Most Sprint PCS Phones launched in 1999 and beyond will feature microbrowser and mobile connectivity capabilities out of the box. Additionally, many older Sprint PCS Phones can be connectivity-enabled with a software upgrade and the purchase of a Sprint PCS Wireless Web Connection Kit (one cable and Sprint PCS Dialer software).

Depending on the phone a user has, they can access three different types of Web services via the Sprint PCS network. Those are:

1) Sprint PCS Wireless Web Updates This lets a user select content from Internet information services and have it delivered at scheduled times;
2) Sprint PCS Wireless Web Browser This enables a user to view specially designed wireless Internet sites to get information about stocks, travel plans, weather and headline news; and
3) Sprint PCS Wireless Web Connection This allows a user to connect a wireless Internet-ready Sprint PCS Phone to a laptop PC, handheld, or palm-size computer to surf the Internet, send and receive e-mail and more.

The Sprint PCS Wireless Web is dependent on wireless phones using the UP.browser, a WAP-compatible microbrowser, available from Phone.com. Sprint said it and its distributors would carry up to 10 data-compatible wireless phones by the end of 1999. At launch, however, the operator was primarily marketing the Qualcomm QCP-1960, the Sprint PCS Touchpoint Phone (single- and dual-band) manufactured by Denso Wireless, and the Sprint PCS NP 1000 made by NeoPoint, a start-up manufacturer slated to provide up to $90 million worth of its smartphones to Sprint PCS. The Denso phone is exclusive to Sprint, which bills it as the only phone with a built-in mouse for menu navigation.

The operator subsequently added the dual-band Sprint PCS Phone by Sanyo and the Qualcomm Thin Phone, an ultra-thin PCS digital phone available in two models: the QCP 1960, a single-band digital CDMA PCS phone, and the QCP 2760, a dual-band digital CDMA PCS and analog phone. In addition, Qualcomm's pdQ, the industry's first integrated CDMA digital phone and Palm Computing platform-based organizer, can be used over the Sprint PCS Wireless Web.

Drawback
Lower-end phones offered by Sprint PCS do not include internal memory, meaning they will require the PCS network to store all of the information that a user might want to access. This follows the model established by Cellular Digital Packet Data networks such as AT&T's PocketNet system. The primary drawback to this blueprint is that if users are out of network range, they cannot obtain information such as their personal calendar, which is stored on the network. Further, dual-band models will not be able to access digital data features when roaming in analog areas.

Despite the excitement generated by Sprint PCS' moves into the data market, other U.S. cdmaOne competitors are not neglecting the data market by any means. They all want to secure their shares of the growing market for cdmaOne data. According to Wireless Internet: Applications, Technologies and Player Strategies, a report from consultancy ARC Group, there were 3 million cdmaOne mobile data users worldwide in 1999. That number should skyrocket to 107.7 million users in 2004. ARC notes that particular prediction does not include the various 3G networks being planned, all of which will employ some form of CDMA.

In the 800 MHz cellular arena, considerable mobile data action has originated with Vodafone AirTouch, GTE and Bell Atlantic Mobile. The companies, which are coming together through a series of mega-mergers, have announced similar data initiatives.

In July 1999, Vodafone AirTouch launched Net Access service over its 800 MHz networks in Seattle, Salt Lake City and Michigan. The AirTouch-developed service runs at 14.4 kilobits per second on the carrier's Interim Standard-95A network and provides data communications via Qualcomm 860 Thin Phones connected to laptop computers with serial cables. The company later added Columbus, Ohio, and Portland, Ore., to its data coverage with plans to roll out the service to its entire wireless footprint by first quarter 2000, and to cover the nation through roaming agreements with other carriers in the same period. Meanwhile, GTE launched similar service based on the Qualcomm 860 in Tampa, Fla., with gradual rollout plans across its footprint.

AirTouch also is planning to initiate wireless portal services that work with handheld smart phones and personal digital assistants to facilitate a variety of mobile messaging, information and e-commerce services. "With its promise of broad geographic coverage, Net Access will be an invaluable tool for many professionals and business people who can't afford to wait to access vital information," notes Andrew Seybold, mobile communications analyst and publisher of Andrew Seybold's Outlook.

Like Sprint PCS, AirTouch is pricing its data services for airtime used, in this case charging the same airtime rates as voice communications and letting data minutes apply to a subscriber's full voice and data airtime package.

In November, Bell Atlantic Mobile launched Web Access in all of its East Coast markets for $9.95 a month in addition to subscribers' cmdaOne digital voice price plans. The operator, which has been a pioneer in offering Cellular Digital Packet Data service over its analog network and in offering flat-rate pricing for CDPD access to the Internet, says those early data efforts garnered it 200,000 current data customers.

The cost to add Web Access to a cdmaOne digital voice price plan is $9.95 a month, with airtime being charged from a combined voice-data account. Bell Atlantic's 20 content providers at launch included TheTrip.com, for travel and flight reservations; Bloomberg, for the latest business news and stock quotes; WhoWhere?, a Web directory; and AccuWeather, for customized weather forecasts and updates.

"When you combine Web Access' ease of use, mobility and comprehensive content with the American appetite for e-mail and the Internet, it's clear why Bell Atlantic Mobile expects this service to increase mainstream demand for wireless data services," says Denny Strigl, president and CEO of Bell Atlantic Global Wireless.

America's northern neighbor Canada, meanwhile, has seen cdmaOne data services launched by Bell Mobility, whose Digital Data to Go provides a portfolio of personal productivity applications including wireless on-line banking, real-time e-mail and web browsing. The company also has been testing Veev, an interactive banking package created with the Bank of Montreal and 724 Solutions. Bell Mobility has contracts to offer the Qualcomm 2700 and Neopoint 1000 for use with its various data services.

Critical
By initiating data now over their existing networks, cdmaOne operators will be able to build critical customer bases that will allow them to justify launching networks based on 1XRTT technology, the Phase I standard for CDMA2000. Their experiences now should also prepare them for the heady marketing wars that are expected once wireless data infiltrates the mainstream.

Again, Sprint PCS is a pioneer in this area, having already conducted tests of 1XRTT and planning more in the near future. Specifically, the company has done trials with Motorola, Lucent and Nortel and plans to conduct tests with Samsung in early 2000. The tests, conducted at the Sprint PCS Technology Integration Center in Lenexa, Kan., are designed to verify that 1XRTT will double voice capacity and provide peak data transmission rates up to 10 times faster than currently available. The company is also looking at testing Qualcomm's High Data Rate (HDR) technology.

According to Oliver Valente, vice president of Technology and Advanced Systems Development for Sprint PCS, "Because of the immense benefits in call-carrying capacity and data speeds with 3G 1XRTT deployment, Sprint PCS is aggressively pursuing this evolutionary 3G technology."

Carrier Availability Coverage Network speed
Bell Atlantic Mobile November 1999 Throughout East Coast market area 14.4Kbps
Bell Mobility (Canada) May 1999 80 percent of subscribers covered 14.4Kbps
GTE Wireless October 1999 19 metropolitan areas in October, throughout coverage area during 2000 14.4Kbps
Sprint PCS Sept 1999 Nationwide 14.4Kps
Vodafone AirTouch July 1999 Michigan, Salt Lake City, Portland, Ore., Seattle initially; 90 percent coverage by Q1 2000  

Source: ARC Group

Worldwide cdmaOne Mobile Data Users, 1999-2004 (millions)

1999
2000
2001
2002
2003
2004
3.0
6.7
16.6
37.3
71.2
107.7

Source: ARC Group