Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Officials tout 3G network arrival

By Joy Campbell, Messenger-Inquirer

Published: Tuesday, December 7, 2010 12:49 AM CST

AT&T officials confirmed Monday that its 3G, or third generation, mobile broadband network is now available for its Owensboro region customers.

And efforts already are under way to make the 3G network even faster with a data access upgrade at the end of this year with a 4G rollout planned for 2012.

The current upgrade means AT&T customers now have access to the nation's fastest 3G network, which is 10 times faster than the 2G network they've been using, according to Jim Thorpe, vice president and general manager for consumer and mobility markets, AT&T Tennessee and Kentucky.

AT&T enhanced 28 cell sites in the region to be able to offer this latest progression of the mobile broadband network, he said.

Thorpe and other AT&T officials spread the word about several changes the company has made to its services during a news conference at The Centre for Business and Research.

Economic development leaders and city and county elected officials at the announcement praised the communications investment as a key to regional jobs growth in an information-dependent economy.

"Like highways are important for moving goods for the manufacturing industry, this technology is essential for so many information-based businesses," said Nick Brake, president and CEO of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp.

A new mortgage loan processing center under construction in the airpark, the hospital and other health care businesses are examples of the kinds of employers that need access to high-speed communications, he said.

The technology is an essential tool for the modern economy that is developing in Owensboro, Brake said.

Being able to have the 3G infrastructure is important to the kinds of start-up businesses that will be locating in the Centre for Business and Research, said Madison Silvert, the EDC's executive vice president.

"Corporations need this broadband service to grow their companies," Silvert said.

Hollison Technologies, the Centre for Business and Research's first tenant, has released an iPhone application that can test for food safety, he said. Other tenants scheduled to move in soon need the capability of communicating fast, he said.

Mobile banking is gaining popularity, and 3G service is essential for customers who want to use their cell phone technology in that capacity, said Darrell Higginbotham, Daviess County president of Independence Bank and past EDC board chairman.

For most customers, the 3G upgrade is all about what AT&T service allows them to do through their cell/mobile phones.

In addition to adding speed, these upgrades make AT&T's 3G network the most flexible, Thorpe said.

For example, if a boss calls an employee and wants a copy of a report, that employee can surf the Web, access e-mail accounts to find and send the report while continuing to talk to the boss.

Using competitors' services, the employee would have to hang up from the boss, find and send the data, and then call the boss back to confirm its receipt, Thorpe said.

"I've seen the advertisements, but our competitors can't do this," Thorpe said.

Other competitors have been offering 3G service in Owensboro for some time -- some for several years.

Thorpe also talked about why it took AT&T so long to offer 3G.

The Federal Communication Commission required the company to divest its spectrum in order to create a competitive wireless system. In doing that, AT&T didn't have enough capacity to keep its 2G customers going and to initiate 3G as well.

The spectrum is limited, and AT&T had to buy it on the open market -- essentially from a competitor.

"The network is here; it's late, but it's the best network you can have," Thorpe said.

In three years, data usage on AT&T's network has increased 5,000 percent, he said.

"This positions us on a level playing field with our competitors in Kentucky, Tennessee and across the country," Daviess County Judge-Executive Reid Haire said. "The businesses that have expressed interest in the centre have owners who are younger and are acutely aware of the importance of communicating. Their business depends on it."

AT&T also will be expanding its Wi-Fi network and will be making the 3G network even faster with another high-speed data access upgrade at the end of this year and 4G, or fourth generation wireless technology, rolled out sometime next year, Thorpe said.

The company also is opening a new 5,000-square-foot store at 5115 Frederica St. with 25 sales and customer service employees. It will be a device-support center where customers can ask questions about their phones.

"This is a first for Kentucky and Tennessee," Thorpe said.