T-Mobile striding to catch up in wireless broadband contest
Seattle Times technology reporter
T-Mobile USA previewed two new devices at the recent Sundance Film Festival by having stars such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Michael Rapaport play movies in the palm of their hands.
The devices — one a phone, the other a personal digital assistant — represent not only new gadgets for the Bellevue company, but a way for it to catch up in the wireless broadband race.
Unlike Cingular Wireless, Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile has not deployed a third-generation, or 3G, network, which can provide DSL-like speeds.
So next week the company is introducing devices that can take advantage of the one high-speed technology T-Mobile is known for: Wi-Fi networks in Starbucks, Hyatt hotels and other locations. Although the devices won't get high-speed service everywhere, subscribers will be able to duck into a Starbucks or use their home or work Wi-Fi networks to check e-mail, scan the Web or perform other Internet tasks.
"Our goal [by building the Wi-Fi network] was to bridge the gap between the 2G, 2.5G and 3G without investing in a major network before consumers are ready to use the applications for 3G," said Jenna Beardsley-Smith, a senior manager of Mobile Pro Segment Marketing at T-Mobile.
As part of the launch, T-Mobile is repricing a rate plan that includes unlimited data usage and use of its T-Mobile Hotspot network. Under the plan, T-Mobile charges $30 a month on top of the subscriber's regular plan. That is $10 cheaper than the previous rate plans, which required customers to sign up for the two services separately for $20 each on top of the voice plan.
The $30-a-month plan compares to an unlimited data plan offered by Verizon Wireless. The new Treo 700w device, which uses Verizon's 3G network, costs $50 a month when a customer signs a one-year contract, not including voice.
One device is not better than the other, said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Jupiter Research. "It comes down to your model for usage and traveling. If you are near T-Mobile Hot Spots or use Wi-Fi a lot, it's a deal that makes sense," he said.
Likewise, IDC analyst David Linsalata said T-Mobile is able to offer something the other carriers don't have — a Wi-Fi network. So, if that something that appeals to you, "that's something that competitors can't match," he said.
T-Mobile is launching two styles of Wi-Fi phones: The SDA, which looks and feels like a phone, and the MDA, a handheld that has a large screen and pull-out keyboard.
Both devices run on T-Mobile's EDGE network, which offers speeds around 70 to 135 kilobits per second. Both devices have Bluetooth connectivity, a 1.3 megapixel camera and MP3 players, and both use the Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system.
The SDA is $299.99 and the MDA is $399.99.
The device manufacturer is HTC, a company based in Taiwan that allows devices to be branded by the carrier's name.
Tricia Duryee: 206-464-3283 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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