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Zippier wireless coming to town

High-speed wireless Internet access will debut in the Tampa Bay region Monday, with what Verizon Wireless calls the fastest data network available over a cell phone network.

Verizon Wireless' BroadbandAccess provides speeds that are about 10 times faster than what is currently available on cell phone networks. Unlimited service will cost about $80 a month and initially will be targeted at business users.

Tampa Bay is one of 11 cities Verizon Wireless is adding to the service next week, which has been operating in Washington, D.C., San Diego and Las Vegas.

The coverage area here will stretch from Land O'Lakes in Pasco County to Brandon in Hillsborough County and west and south through most of Pinellas County, including Clearwater, downtown St. Petersburg and the beaches, according to the company.

By next year, the company plans to expand to other areas in the state as well as be in at least 50 of the top 100 markets, according to Dick Lynch, the company's executive vice president and chief technical officer.

While Lynch says the service gives Verizon Wireless an 18 to 24 month lead over competitors, it won't be alone in the market. Other carriers, including Sprint, also plan such networks, possibly by next year.

Cell phone carriers in the United States have been trying for years to match the success of high-speed data services in Europe and Asia. But consumers have resisted, partly because of slow connection speeds, higher costs and services that didn't catch their fancy.

But the industry has invested billions in upgrading networks, including $1-billion by Verizon Wireless for its BroadbandAccess network, also known as "Evolution-Data Optimized (EV-DO) third generation (3G) wide-area network," to improve the appeal.

Starting out, Verizon Wireless will market BroadbandAccess to businesses.

"We have had a very significant demand from business customers" in the first three markets, Lynch said.

No cell phones specifically for the service are available yet, so Verizon Wireless is selling a PC card for laptop computer users for about $100. Eventually, Lynch says, the company expects phones, personal digital assistants and computers to come equipped with chips for the service. Consumer devices and services also will be offered.

As with any cell phone network, there are limits. If a user leaves the BroadbandAccess coverage area, the service will switch to the current _ and slower _ Internet access. And signal coverage can be an issue.

"You're always going to have more trouble when you get into the interior of buildings," Lynch said. "Unlike voice, the way you'll see it with data, you'll see it slow down, not go away."

Dave Gussow can be reached at gussowsptimes.com or (727) 771-4328.

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