T-Mobile USA has fired up its third-generation wireless network in the U.S., announcing Monday that it's now live in New York City — though few phones can use it.
Other major cities will get "3G" coverage later this year, the company said, confirming previously announced plans.
The cellular carrier, the nation's fourth largest, has lagged behind its larger rivals in introducing "3G" wireless broadband because it has until recently had access to less radio spectrum. Instead, it has emphasized phones that complement slower cellular data services with Wi-Fi.
Web browsing and downloading content like ringtones will be twice as fast with 3G on four phone models that T-Mobile USA started selling last year, Nokia's 3555 and 6263 and Samsung's t819 and t639.
T-Mobile will offer phones that take full advantage of the 3G network, with data speeds that are four times as fast as current non-3G models, later this year.
Those will use HSDPA, or High-Speed Downlink Packet Access, a flavor of 3G already introduced by AT&T that allows download speeds around 600 kilobits per second, comparable to low-end DSL connections.
While BlackBerry smart phones are an important part of T-Mobile's lineup, models with HSDPA likely won't be available until next year, said Neville Ray, senior vice president of engineering and operations at T-Mobile USA.
T-Mobile's network isn't compatible with current HSDPA phones sold by AT&T or imported from overseas, because T-Mobile uses a different slice of the airwaves for its 3G service.
It bought licenses to that spectrum in a 2006 government auction, but parts of it have been used by defense and law enforcement, and it's taken time for them to vacate the airwaves.
"It's been a tough road, but they've been very cooperative in recent months," said Ray. The speed of the rollout of 3G to other cities is now more dependent on how fast the company can get new equipment up and running, he added.
Other carriers that participated in the 2006 auction have so far done little with the spectrum, except for regional carriers MetroPCS Communications Inc. and Leap Wireless International Inc., which have launched service in a few markets in the last months.
T-Mobile USA has 28.7 million subscribers and is a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom AG of Germany.