A second-generation cellular telephone system could be operating in Spokane by early next year, according to officials with one of two groups that will provide the service.
Jerry Brantley, executive vice president of MainStreet Wireless, said the new personal communications services, or PCS, will provide higher quality at less cost than existing cellular networks.
Digital PCS systems also have more capacity than current cellular systems, most of which rely on analog technology, he said.
Brantley said MainStreet will back installation of PCS in a broad geographic area that includes much of Eastern Washington, North Idaho, northeastern Oregon and all of Montana.
A newly formed subsidiary of Ellensburg Telephone, an investor in MainStreet, will install and operate a system covering Spokane, as well as others in Walla Walla, the Tri-Cities, and Lewiston.
Ellensburg Telephone Vice President Jack Morfield said Elltel Wireless Inc. must await final approval of the Spokane-Billings license by the Federal Communications Commission before it can purchase locations for its antennas and move forward with building a network.
The Spokane system will require between 12 and 14 cells, with ranges from two to six miles depending on foliage and other obstructions, he said.
The antennas, small compared with those in current cellular systems, will be linked to a central switch at a site in the city not yet determined.
Initially, Morfield added, the Spokane network will not extend into North Idaho.
He said the cost will be about $10 million.
The area was one of 51 put up for bid in December by the FCC, which awarded licenses to 99 winners last month. The auction raised a total $7.7 billion.
The two successful bidders for Spokane were Poka Lambro Telephone Cooperative Inc. and WireLessCo, L.P.
WireLessCo, a partnership that includes Sprint, TeleCommunications Inc., Comcast Telephony Inc. and Cox Cable, bid $6.2 million. Poka Lambro, the provider of telephone service in the Lubbock, Texas, area, bid $5.7 million.
Alan Collins, general manager of Cox operations in Spokane, said he cannot comment yet on WireLessCo’s plans for the area.
Poka Lambro sold its rights to MainStreet, in which it is the majority stockholder, Morfield said.
Brantley estimated PCS service would cost about one-third that of existing cellular calls. The handsets are similar, but PCS units have longer battery life, he said.
MainStreet, Brantley said, hopes to be in 50 to 100 markets eventually. Officials had intended to focus on smaller markets, and were caught somewhat off-guard when their bid for the Spokane-Billings area was successful.
“It worked out just great,” he said, adding “We’re a very serious, longterm player.”
The bid, noted Poka Lambro Chief Executive Office Mickey Sims, was one-tenth the cost per potential customer of that paid by one Chicago winner.
“To the big boys, the Spokane-Billings metropolitan trading area may be a secondary market, but to us these are primary, bread-and-butter markets,” he said.