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Verizon launches first U.S. '3G' network

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Verizon became the first company Monday to launch a so-called "third generation" or "3G" wireless telephone network in the United States.

It is an upgraded telecommunications network that makes it possible for subscribers with specially equipped wireless phones to access the Internet and other online services at high connection speeds.

Sprint is expected to offer similar 3G services within a few months, and AT&T has said its 3G network will be up and running by the end of the year.

Initially, the Verizon service is available in three areas: a corridor that runs from Norfolk, Virginia to Portland, Maine; the Salt Lake City area; and the San Francisco/Silicon Valley area.

Also on Monday, Verizon began selling two new telephone devices capable of accessing the 3G network. Neither is a stand-alone device. One is a handset that retails for about $80 and has to be cabled to a computer. The other is a PC card that fits into a computer or personal digital assistant (PDA) and essentially works like a wireless modem, connecting those devices to the network. The card sells for about $300.


3G technology has been touted by analysts as the "next big thing" in wireless phones, allowing users to send documents, surf the web, view graphics and streaming video, download music and even video-conference over mobile phones.

The Japanese company NTT DoCoMo launched the world's first 3G network in Japan last September. That service is somewhat more advanced than the Verizon version, as its 3G telephones work as stand alone devices and don't have to connect to a computer or PDA.

Will it catch on?

Verizon says its 3G service pricing plan for existing customers will start at $30/month on top of regular monthly fees.

Analysts say numerous companies are developing software products that will provide content to 3G phones -- games, business applications, and sports and entertainment programming such as sports reports and newscasts.

However, critics caution that potential users might shy away from 3G phones as most of these services are not widely available yet. Also, it is unclear is how many customers will be interested in viewing content delivered on a wireless phone's small LCD display screen.

By the end of the year, Verizon hopes that half of its nationwide network will be switched over to support 3G service.

Existing wireless phones will work on a 3G network, but will not be able to take advantage of the enhanced services.


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