Both Sprint PCS and Verizon have begun to deploy 3G networks, although service will be limited at least until year-end. AT&T will also be in the race by then, and Cingular will join in 2004.
Sprint is rolling out its services nationwide as expensive 3G-capable phones from its partners become available. The service will be subscription-based, although prices and coverage details were not yet finalized at press time.
Verizon's Express Network will start in the Northeast, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and the Silicon Valley, and expand as phones come online. For now, you need a laptop or a PDA with a $300 (all prices street) Sierra Wireless AirCard or an $80 Kyocera 2235 phone with a $50 Verizon connector. There's also a $30 monthly surcharge.
What will you get for your money? 3G networks deliver more bandwidth for Web browsing and better phone service. While they're theoretically capable of 144Kbps, you'll probably see about 56Kbps early on. That's still five times faster than today's wireless networks, and it makes always-on access possible without interrupting your phone calls.
Rich media downloads and more exotic mobile applications have to await 3G-capable handsets and more bandwidth. Sprint says 3G transmission speeds are headed for 2Mbps by 2004, but promises streaming video teleconferencing and photo downloads before then.
Erik P. Nelson is a technology writer in San Francisco and a frequent contributor to Entrepreneur.