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Cellular phones.

Ron Sheardown, president of Greatland Exploration Ltd. in Anchorage, has traveled to the Soviet Union fourteen times in the past two years to manage international mining exploration projects. The assortment of portable equipment he carries always includes his cellular phone.

"I use it for calls to and from the Soviet Union and Europe,' he says, as well as in town here when I'm moving around between offices and meetings.' He considers the $750 he invested in his portable unit cheap" considering its usefulness, and he plans to upgrade his equipment soon.

Frequent fliers like Sheardown will find cellular connections are available at most destinations through roaming' agreements between cellular companies. Sheardown says he has used his phone successfully throughout North America, from Arizona to New York. One limiting factor is that his unit runs on an 18hour battery; regular replacements may be in order if your phone is a business lifeline.

Cellular phones owe their early success to our culture's appetite for instant communication. Sales and service personnel who spend many hours on the road are prime candidates for cellular, and the trucking industry nationwide is a major user. Among promising markets are Alaska's fishing industry and small business enterprises such as real estate agents, contracting firms and travel agents.

Cellular phone users are exploring law enforcement, military and recreational applications, such as boating. Terrence Connor, general manager of Cellular One in Anchorage, says he read recently about a man operating a video rental business out of a van using a cellular phone as his contact number.

Beyond the advantage of instant accessibility to customers and staff, cellular offers the benefit of increased control over personal time. Carol Douthit, an Anchorage real estate agent, explains, 'It frees me up to do other things. I can make 8 or 10 calls from my car on the way to an appointment, and I'm free to come and go when I want to rather than wait around for a call."

Cellular detractors who complain about low sound quality will concede the phone's best application may be for emergencies - when you are trapped in a traffic jam, stalled by bad weather, or just need to tell a client you're running late.

Despite the debate about sound clarity, the market penetration of cellular phones appears to be following the pattern established by fax machines a few years ago. Once considered an expensive toy, the fax machine now is viewed by most businesses as indispensable. Cellular sales should receive an additional boost as the costs of equipment and service continue to drop. Past, Present & Future. Cellular communications were first available nationwide in 1984. In Anchorage, cellular was turned on in 1988. Service started late last year in Fairbanks and was expected to be launched in Juneau in March.

Cellular One and MacTel Cellular System in Anchorage together have penetrated about one percent of the population. By comparison, Seattle's market penetration stood at 0.5 percent two years after cellular service was introduced.

Cellulink, headquartered in Appleton, Wisc., and owned by Pacific Telecom, is currently the only company offering cellular service in Fairbanks and Juneau. Greg Seibold, a Cellulink sales manager, says that in the short period since Fairbanks was 'turned on, sales have moved ahead of projections."

To control the distribution of cellular licenses, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) awarded two licenses in each of the country's 305 metropolitan service areas (MSA) and 428 rural service areas (RSA). Alaska was divided into one MSA, encompassing Anchorage and its environs, and three RSAS. RSA I covers Fairbanks and northern Alaska; RSA 2 covers the area surrounding the Anchorage MSA, including the Kenai Peninsula, and westward to the Aleutian Islands; and RSA 3 encompasses Juneau and Southeast.

Charlie Durand, general manager of the Bristol Bay Cellular Partnership in King Salmon (a combined venture of GTE Mobilnet and the Bristol Bay Telephone Co-op), says, "We were the first RSA to turn on in Alaska." The partnership, serving part of RSA 2, turned on a cell serving King Salmon and Naknek in late 1990 and plans to turn on one cell each for Dillingham, Egegik and Pilot Point before the end of May 1991. "We're looking at the fishing industry and local subscribers to be our main subscribers," he adds.

The FCC automatically awarded the "wireline" license in each service area to telephone companies - the Bell operating companies and independents. The competing nonwireline licenses were awarded through hearings and lotteries to independent parties not associated with the telephone companies.

Before the advent of cellular communications, traditional car-phone systems depended on a single, powerful radio transmitter to relay calls over an entire territory. Cellular replaces that transmitter with a network of low-power broadcasting towers, each serving a small area, or cell.

Because each tower's coverage overlaps slightly with that of its neighbors, calls can be routed by computer and "handed off" to the nearest transmitter as customers move around from one area to another. The calls then can be sent to a facility where they are transferred to the conventional phone network, enabling roaming subscribers like Ron Sheardown to reach any telephone anywhere in the world.

Cellular One's Connor predicts that cellular technology is the vanguard of a wireless communications revolution that will render wire systems obsolete. Citing information compiled by the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, Connor says, 'In 1992 you will be able to use your cellular phone continuously as you drive across the country and up and down the coast. By 1997, there will be no gaps in cellular coverage in the United States and Canada.' What people don't realize, he says, is that some descendant of today's cellular systems will manage many aspects of our daily lives, from the coffeepot and garage door opener to international business communications.

If Connor is right and cellular use increases dramatically, system overloads should pose no problem. The FCC has designated 832 radio frequencies for low-power localized broadcasting, which could handle the most optimistic cellular growth projections. Getting Started. Signing up with a cellular service company is as easy as requesting standard home or business telephone installation. In some cases, your authorized phone retailer will contact the service company to assign you a phone number and initiate service. All subscribers are charged a monthly access fee, plus air time for each call - incoming and outgoing. These are billed at per-minute rates that vary between peak and off-peak times. Connor advises novice cellular users to try a rental package before purchasing a phone to get a practical idea of the level of use and unit quality they'll need. As long as subscribers are in their home territory, making and receiving calls is no different from using a conventional phone. Because customers must pay for the air time used for every call - both to and from the mobile phone - cellular phone numbers are unlisted to avoid unwanted calls. Cellular phones may be used freely on land or sea, but they're not allowed on airlines because they are radio transceivers and may cause communications interference. By contrast, airfone in-flight units operate on a designated frequency. Shopping for Cellular Service. In areas in which you have two cellular service companies to choose from, you will want to evaluate their respective strengths and weaknesses. Before you go shopping, prepare a checklist of questions pertinent to your needs, such as:

What is the company's coverage area?

Are the areas you frequently travel to served by the cellular network or by a roaming agreement with other cellular companies?

How is the cellular system configured? The technology was designed to use a number of short, low-power radio transmitters. Some companies use fewer, but taller towers. This may produce short-term savings for the company, but the customer's service is not improved. Potential holes in the coverage area may occur if one or more of the transmitters are knocked out.

Does the company require its cellular installation shops to meet certain criteria for proper installation?

Does the company offer special services, such as automatic roaming and free emergency dialing? How about custom features, such as three way calling, call-waiting and call forwarding?

Finally, what are the subscription rates and use packages? (A word of advice here: Don't base your decision on price alone; service and quality should be strong factors in your evaluation.) Cellular Phone Options. If you're ready to buy into cellular communications but wonder what kind of phone you should purchase, keep in mind that size means power. If sound clarity is your priority, you may have to sacrifice portability. If you have your eye on a palm-sized phone, prepare to accept some degree of audio compromise.

Because car phones offer three watts of power - the most allowed by law - they provide the widest coverage and clearest sound of all cellular phones. An antenna is most effective when it's mounted on the car. The strongest option is an all-wire antenna mounted in a hole in the roof-, antennas that radiate through the rear window lose power.

Some car phones are permanently installed in cars. Another category of phone - the transportable - is really just a car phone that can leave the car. Bulky and powerful, these phones are getting smaller, but not small enough to carry around all day. Transportable units come with a hefty battery pack and a shoulder strap for field use.

The small size and weight of hand-held phones make them ideal for pockets or briefcases. This smaller and weaker cellular cousin is limited to one-fifth the power of the car/ transportable phone. Less power usually translates into shorter range and poorer quality, but most business people on the move prefer portability. Some vendors offer optional automobile adapters that can boost the power of many portables.

Portables vary in size and weight, as well as in special features and the amount of talk time they offer, but all share some basics. Each is powered by rechargeable batteries and has a 0.6watt power output, an LCD readout screen, tone signaling for accessing devices such as answering machines, last-number redial, microphone mute, and an antenna. They all have memory capacity for phone number storage and automatic dialing, generally with an on-screen menu display or operating guide, individual and cumulative call times, and multilevel call restriction to prevent unauthorized use.

Some of the latest portables on the market offer innovative features such as voice-activated dialing, a signal that tells you a call came while you were away, speakerphone capabilities, and - an option James Bond might appreciate - the ability to dial 911 even when locked.' +
COPYRIGHT 1991 Alaska Business Publishing Company, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:cellular communication and how it relates to Alaska's businesses
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Mar 1, 1991
Words:1754
Previous Article:Bottomfish brouhaha.
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