Thursday, October 26, 2006

Sprint's EV-DO Rev A Speeds Wireless Broadband

Sprint's one-two punch to other cellular broadband providers is EV-DO Rev A today followed by WiMAX next year and beyond. Punch number one has just landed in San Diego, where Sprint has announced the upgrade of its Power Vision Network from EV-DO Rev 0 to Rev A. What does this mean for users? It's city-wide wireless broadband with DSL or better speeds on both upload and download. Greatly expanded upload speeds and new wireless access devices are being targeted to mobile professionals.

EV-DO (EVolution, Data Optimized) is a high speed data transmission standard for CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) cellular phone systems. The big players in the U.S. are Sprint / Nextel and Verizon. Cingular uses a different technology called GSM and their own set of data standards. What EV-DO does is use some of the channels available on each cellular tower to transmit and receive data rather than phone calls. Originally, data was a low speed tag-along service good for sending emails and similar textual data to cell phones and laptop computers. There's almost universal coverage by Sprint and Verizon for this service. But both companies are in a battle to provide true broadband or 3G data access on their cellular networks.

EV-DO has been growing in popularity with the proliferation of multimedia phones and the ability of the carriers to sell on-demand video and music downloads. But it has another important application in enabling laptop computers and handheld mobile computing devices to connect to the Internet on the go. Standard EV-DO Rev 0 speeds range between 400 and 700 Kbps depending on how busy the network is. That's plenty for most Web browsing, email, and remote login to corporate networks. The Rev A upgrade will only marginally improve that to 450 - 800 Kbps, although the peak burst rate is 3.1 Mbps. The big improvement is in the upload rate from the current paltry 50 to 70 Kbps to a more broadband-like 300 to 400 Kbps. Sprint is touting this expanded capability for applications such as IP video telephony, high-performance push-to-talk, multi-user video conferencing, real time gaming, and video streaming of content and live Web cams.

Another interesting development is the Linksys Wireless G-Router for Mobile Broadband. It's a WiFi based router with a Type II PCMCIA slot to hold a cellular aircard. Pop in a Sprint EV-DO aircard and you have a wireless broadband network that you can take with you. Sprint is touting it as a way to keep an entire company team connected away from home, such as at corporate retreats, remote warehouses and construction sites.

One has to wonder if Sprint is on the verge of establishing a more comprehensive universal wireless broadband network than the spotty coverage provided by WiFi hotspots and municipal networks. While the initial rollout has been in San Diego, there are 22 other major metropolitan areas destined to get EV-DO Rev A coverage yet this year. That's an estimated 40 million people. Initial coverage is planned for airports and business districts, but the entire Sprint cellular network should be upgraded by 3Q 2007.

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