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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Rural customers get Unicel’s attention

From staff reports

A nationwide wireless phone company says it’s invested almost $11 million in high-speed data networks for rural Washington residents.

In a press release Thursday, officials from Unicel, a division of Minnesota-based Rural Cellular Corp., said they’ve developed a 3G (third-generation) wireless network that reaches customers across most of Eastern Washington and parts of Idaho.

The company currently has between 40,000 and 50,000 customers in Eastern Washington, said company spokesman Rich Schultz.

The enhanced services became available in the past few weeks, said Schultz.

All its Washington state customers are in smaller cities, such as Colville, Wenatchee, Chelan, Walla Walla, Omak and Pullman. It also has customers in Moscow and Lewiston, Idaho.

Schultz said the upgrade leaves customers with a network that can provide state-of-the-art service equal to what users can find in Portland or Seattle.

Cell phones on the network can manage streaming video and music, much faster delivery of photos and other large-data applications, said Schultz.

Unicel phones can also be connected to laptop PCs and allow users to surf the Internet or check e-mail, he added. Depending on network traffic, phones can handle data at speeds of 144 kilobits per second, said Schultz.

“That’s several times faster than dial-up and nearly as fast as home broadband,” he said.

Unicel provides services, primarily in rural communities, in 15 states and to about one million customers. “We’re the largest of the small guys,” said Schultz.

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