updated 11/30/2004 6:35:13 PM ET 2004-11-30T23:35:13

Cingular Wireless LLC will begin deploying a speedier wireless Internet service next year, a move made possible by the network capacity gained with the recent acquisition of AT&T Wireless as Cingular tries to catch up with to catch up with rivals led by Verizon Wireless.

The nation's biggest cell phone company provided few details with Tuesday's announcement except to say it would launch the service in a "substantial" number of markets by the end of 2005 and "most" major markets by the end of 2006.

Cingular already offers the new service in six cities where it had been launched by AT&T Wireless before its acquisition by Cingular in late October -- Dallas, Detroit, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle -- but had yet to move beyond trials itself due to capacity constraints before the merger.

The Atlanta-based company said the wireless technology it is using, known as third-generation or 3G, will offer average data speeds between 400 kilobits per second to 700 kilobits per second -- on par with entry-level DSL and cable broadband connections.

That speed would be a shade faster than the high-speed service which Verizon already sells in 14 markets and which Sprint Corp. plans to begin rolling out by the end of this year.

The Cingular-AT&T Wireless service is based on a technology known as "UMTS," while Verizon and Sprint are using a platform called EV-DO.

Cingular, a joint venture of SBC Communications Inc. of San Antonio and BellSouth Corp. of Atlanta, said it has signed agreements with Ericsson Inc., Lucent Technologies Inc., Siemens AG and Nokia Corp. to supply the equipment and software required for the network upgrade and rollout of service.

The race to upgrade cell phone networks with broadband data capability is costing billions of dollars for the nation's wireless companies.

Cingular, with 47.25 million customers, wants to provide the service as soon as possible to avoid losing customers as its rivals expand their high-speed wireless coverage nationally.

Verizon Wireless, owned jointly by Verizon Communications Inc. and Vodafone PLC, has said it is on target to double the coverage area of its service by year-end to about a third of its national cellular network. In 2005, coverage is expected to double again to about two-thirds of the network.

Sprint is planning to deploy service in some markets by the end of December with a broader rollout expected in 2005.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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