Sprint Nextel to Launch High-Speed Network

By BRUCE MEYERSON, AP Business Writer

Sprint Nextel Corp. is poised for a full-scale launch of its high-speed wireless network, a service that will include the first over-the-air music download store in the United States.

The newly merged cell phone company was planning a series of major announcements for Monday morning.

In advance of the announcement, Sprint Nextel distributed review units of a new cell phone equipped with EV-DO, the technology with which the company's network is being upgraded to offer speedier Internet connections and other data services.

The Samsung handset also featured a menu icon for music that leads to a service named "Sprint Music Store" offering downloads from a wide array of genres for $2.50 per song. The purchase entitles a user to download a copy of the same song to a computer as well.

There already are a growing number of phones that can store and play music -- most notably the ROKR handset introduced last month by Motorola Inc. and Apple Computer Inc. for songs downloaded to a computer from Apple's popular iTunes store. But only a few overseas cellular operators have launched services where the music can be delivered directly to a handset over the air.

Sprint Nextel and Cingular Wireless have stated numerous times they plan to introduce speedier wireless data capabilities by the end of this year. Both companies have lagged far behind Verizon Wireless in deploying such capabilities for business usage on laptops and multimedia services on high-end phones.

It was unclear how many markets would have access to the new Sprint service initially. As a prelude to a full-blown launch, Sprint began turning on its EV-DO service at airports and some downtown business corridors during the summer. At last count, those limited services were available in 127 cities.

Cingular, a joint venture between SBC Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp., provides high-speed wireless access across six metropolitan areas using a different technology than Sprint and Verizon, but has said the "UMTS" service will be available in between

15 and 20 markets by year-end.

Verizon Wireless, a joint venture between Verizon Communications Inc. and Vodafone Group PLC, began rolling out its EV-DO service about one year ago and now offers it across 61 metropolitan areas.

Sales of the ROKR have been disappointing so far, but cellular operators remain optimistic that music phones will generate a lucrative new revenue stream.

Napster has partnered with wireless equipment maker Ericsson to launch a mobile music service under the Napster brand. Slated to launch in Europe within a year and in the United States eventually, the service would allow users to purchase individual tracks and download them wirelessly.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.

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