Cingular Wireless launched high-speed wireless service in 16 U.S. markets Tuesday, making it the third carrier to provide so-called third...

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Cingular Wireless launched high-speed wireless service in 16 U.S. markets Tuesday, making it the third carrier to provide so-called third generation, or 3G, services in the country.

Although Cingular’s entry tails offerings from Verizon Wireless and Sprint, the Atlanta-based carrier is getting additional attention because the rollout is the first time a carrier has provided an advanced high-speed technology commercially using GSM — the most widely adopted wireless standard around the world.

“We are announcing several firsts in the world,” said Ralph de la Vega, Cingular’s chief operating officer.

Locally, the service will be available from Seattle to Tacoma and in the Portland area. The other coverage areas are San Francisco, Salt Lake City, San Jose, San Diego, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Austin, Houston, Dallas, Chicago, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Boston.

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As of Tuesday, the carrier said it is selling one data card that will let laptops connect to the Internet wirelessly through the new service. That data card, the Sierra AC 860, will cost $99. Monthly plans will start as low as $20. Unlimited data usage is being offered for $60 a month in a special promotion, with regular prices at $80.

Another card, the Novatel U730, will be offered shortly. Cellphones that can use the high-speed access are expected to come out early next year.

The new Cingular service, called HSDPA, is faster than its high-speed EDGE network introduced two years ago. A one megabyte file will download in 15 seconds; compared with 1.28 minutes on the EDGE system. At that speed, the service is similar to wired DSL.

When users travel to a market that does not have HSDPA, they will automatically switch over to the EDGE network. It is also the first time in the world that a carrier has equipment that allows this so-called backward compatibility, de la Vega said.

Sprint and Verizon Wireless’ high-speed networks use EV-DO technology and offer the same speeds, or roughly 400 to 700 kilobits per second. Verizon Wireless charges $60 a month for unlimited use with a voice plan. Sprint charges $80 a month unlimited with no voice plan.

Cingular may be looking at another first when it releases 3G-enabled cellphones next year: Users will be able to make a voice call and surf the Internet at the same time, said Mike Maxwell, Cingular’s vice president and general manager of the Pacific Northwest.

Cingular expects HSDPA to be in most major markets in 2006.

Tricia Duryee: 206-464-3283 or tduryee@seattletimes.com