AT&T Wireless Pushes the EDGE

AT&T Wireless (NYSE: AWE  ) grabbed the microphone at COMDEX this week to raise the stakes in the wireless game by announcing the launch of EDGE services nationwide. EDGE is a technology upgrade that reportedly quadruples the speed of its current wireless data offering -- to download speeds of 100 to 130 kbps on average. With peak burst speeds of 200 kbps, the company claims to have nearly doubled what rivals SprintPCS (NYSE: PCS  ) and Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ  ) are offering via their nationwide CDMA 1x network.

After lagging Verizon and Sprint for months with slower GPRS data services, AT&T Wireless is now gleefully claiming the fastest national wireless connections. To start, AT&T Wireless offers only one EDGE-enabled laptop data card from Sony-Ericsson and one phone -- the Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) model 6200. The company claims more devices will come in 2004 as it strives to develop widespread industry support for the technology.

The announcement is the latest stink bomb being tossed back and forth by wireless service providers claiming to offer the best third-generation (3G) services. AT&T Wireless didn't hold back either -- CEO John Zeglis brazenly declared that rival offerings were only "so-called" 3G offerings. As if wireless number portability, holiday season promotions and push-to-talk weren't enough, AT&T Wireless is the latest to dangle another technology carrot to woo consumers to its side.

Just like a vintage Batman rerun (complete with POW! BIFF! and ZLOPP!), the fight between rival technologies CDMA and GSM is heating up once again (EDGE is part of the GSM family). The CDMA Development Group (CDG) -- a consortium of companies promoting CDMA -- recently released a white paper lambasting EDGE. The Truth About EDGE questions marketing claims from EDGE proponents and argues to the superiority of the CDMA family of technologies.

Once the hullabaloo over fluff and half-truths calms down on this one, the next round of fireworks will likely begin when a network operator -- perhaps Verizon Wireless -- launches the Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM  ) designed 1x EV-DO technology nationwide. This will be a true leap into broadband, providing download speeds of 300 - 600 kbps. Currently, Verizon has commercially launched the service in Washington, D.C. and San Diego, and is evaluating the prospects of rolling out more markets.

However the marketing and PR battles go, one thing is for sure -- Americans are finally getting their first taste of 3G services envisioned years ago.

For more, join us on the AT&T Wireless discussion board.

If Dave Mock could only fight crime as good as Batman and the Boy Wonder, people might stop laughing at his spandex and rubber suit. He is author of Tapping into Wireless, and welcomes your feedback at dave@davemock.com.


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