RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — Verizon Wireless became the latest carrier to move into the world of so-called 3G (third generation) networks on Wednesday when it announced a high-speed network service in 14 major metropolitan areas.

Among them is Atlanta.

Verizon said its Broadband Access service will offer download speeds of between 300-500 kilobits (kbps) per second. That’s fast enough for multimedia applications which are at the heart of next-generation services.

AT&T Wireless, which is being acquired by Cingular, has started rolling out a high-speed network in limited areas.

Nextel Wireless is offering a broadband trial in the Research Triangle Park area. That plan offers much higher downloads of up to 1.5 megabytes per second.

Sprint also has plans 3G offerings.

Trickle-down effect

The introduction of these digital networks that offer data, video and interactive services is good news for several RTP-area firms focused on wireless applications and Cary-based Spectrasite, the nation’s third largest operator of wireless towers. PowerbyHand in Durham, Summus in Raleigh and Mi-Co in RTP are just three of the firms playing in the wireless space for things such as online e-books, data capture, games and entertainment.

Verizon said that its network would be available on Monday in Atlanta plus: Austin, TX; Baltimore; Kansas City, MO; Las Vegas; Los Angeles; Miami/Fort Lauderdale, FL; Milwaukee; New York; Philadelphia; San Diego; Tampa, FL; Washington, D.C. and West Palm Beach, FL.

Jeff Kagan, a telecommunications consultant, told The New York Times that Verizon is ahead in 3G deployments — for now. “It puts Verizon in the lead today,” he said. “But they’re all moving in this direction.”

Verizon Wireless said it is focusing on business users. The cost is $80 a month. A special modem card is required and costs some $100 after rebates. Verizon promised “a secure, reliable, true high-speed data connection”.

The network’s coverage area includes Metro Atlanta, Marietta, Smyrna, Sandy Springs, Decatur and College Park, Forest Park and East Point; parts of Alpharetta; and parts of Gwinnett County, including Tucker.

Billion-dollar investment

In a statement, Verizon said it expected to spend $1 billion for the high-speed network.

“Because of our city’s early adoption of technology, our Fortune 1000 base, academic community and start-up community, Atlanta is included in this early rollout of BroadbandAccess,” said Jim McGean, regional president of Verizon Wireless, in a statement. “The product has done very well in both Washington D.C. and San Diego and we are confident the Atlanta business community will equally benefit from its value.”

Verizon is using so-called EV-DO technology for its network and said that modems will “seamlessly switch” to slower parts of its network when broadband access isn’t available.

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For information on Nextel’s trial in RTP, see: