updated 6/22/2004 5:01:56 PM ET 2004-06-22T21:01:56

Trying to keep pace with its rivals, Sprint Corp. is boosting speeds on its wireless data network by up to tenfold in a technology upgrade it says will cost about $1 billion.

The company said Tuesday it will begin the upgrade to what the industry touts as wireless broadband Internet access in the second half of this year in selected markets it did not identify.

Sprint said it expects the technology, known as EV-DO, to be available in “the majority of top metropolitan markets” in 2005.

Sprint customers who want the higher speeds will need to buy new PC cards for their laptops, or handsets. Existing handsets and cards will continue to work at the slower speeds in areas where the upgrades are made.

EV-DO pushes wireless data transfer from the current 50 to 70 kilobits per second to an average of 300 to 500 kbps, or five to 10 times quicker than dial-up phone access.

Sprint rivals AT&T Wireless and Verizon Communications have each announced similar higher-speed services in the last eight months.

AT&T’s speedier service is already available, and Verizon’s is available in the San Diego and Washington areas with further expansion planned later this year.

“That put the pressure on Sprint to up its speed,” said Jeffrey Kagan, an independent analyst who follows the telecommunications industry. “It’s the kind of move we expected. After AT&T and Verizon one-upped them, all eyes went to Sprint.”

Sprint has about 6.2 million wireless data customers, providing revenue of about $700 million a year.

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