Here's big news. Mobile-phone Goliath Cingular Wireless has rolled out its first GSM (Global System for Mobile communication) service called...

Share story

Here’s big news.

Mobile-phone Goliath Cingular Wireless has rolled out its first GSM (Global System for Mobile communication) service called HSDPA (high-speed download packet access).

It competes with services from Sprint Nextel and Verizon called EV-DO (Evolution-Data Only).

OK kids, now that we’ve scared off the adults with lots of letters, here’s the deal.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks

Cingular recently began selling gear for the long-awaited “third generation” broadband service over its cellular network.

The first Cingular devices with the European-style, high-speed Internet-everywhere service are PC cards with little antennae that plug into notebook computers.

Quite soon you’ll see the same speed in smart phones such as the BlackBerry or PalmOne Treo handsets. Look for this type of phone from Cingular early next year.

Meanwhile, I’ve done a quick but strenuous review of the PC card and can tell you it delivered acceptable Internet access from my laptop over Cingular’s cellular system.

Just about everywhere I went in Chicago to test, I got adequate results, considering that we’re talking about mobile technology rather than the hard-wired cable modems in our homes.

Cingular executives say the HSDPA network boasts throughput between 400 bits per second and 700 bits per second (bps) with spikes in the 1-megabit range.

I don’t think I experienced anything like 1 megabit, but I was very happy with what I did get: roughly 400 bps worth of speed.

Before you mutter ho hum and head for the comic pages, consider that this portends a big change in the way Americans get their Internet connections in an era in which wireless and Web businesses are booming.

With 3G, the whole country becomes your Starbucks. As companies fight with municipalities trying to block them from providing hot-spot coverage for entire towns and cities, mobile-phone operators already offer comparable access.

The Cingular service was slow in my tests but not hopelessly slow. Downloading is much faster than uploading, which is the same with DSL connections and even cable Internet accounts.

At roughly 400 bps, streaming video came in loud and clear, and even though downloading music and photos was sluggish, it was adequate. A high-resolution photograph that downloaded seemingly instantly on my cable modem connection took maybe a half-second to arrive.

Like all cellular-phone deals, the service is sold in different plans. They start at $19.95 per month for 5 mb of data and $59.95 for unlimited use. You need to have a Cingular voice account for these rates. Without a voice plan, the service costs $79.99 with a 2-year commitment.

The modem I tested was the Sierra Wireless AirCard 860 and costs $200 with the $79.99 no-voice plan. The price is lower if you sign up for voice service and less still if you’ve got a Cingular phone.

Anyway, figure you would spend $20 or $30 more per month than your current high-speed deal. If you use just one computer at home or if you’re a hard-core gadget lover, this might be just the ticket.

With phone manufacturers like Motorola targeting the iPod set by conjuring up images of streaming music over their mobile phones, the 3G experience is proof that such stuff actually works.

The big excitement in bottom-line fiscal terms is the way this will permit 3G-enabled mobile phones and text-messaging devices to do stuff at the kinds of speed that television commercials imply but current equipment can’t provide.