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PCS NARROWBAND WINNERS PAINT FEATURE-FILLED PAGING LANDSCAPE

Two-way communications on devices the size of a pager will likely be the first service offered on recently purchased nationwide narrowband PCS frequencies.

“We’re just starting down the path of what will be a whole array of new devices. Three years from now, there will be services that none of us imagine today. We’re sitting at the virtual explosion of this,” said John Beletic, president and chief executive officer of PageMart Inc.

PageMart was one of six companies that paid the U.S. government a total of $617 million in the nation’s first spectrum auction. Other winning companies were Paging Network Inc., McCaw Cellular Communications Inc., AirTouch Communications, Mobile Telecommunication Technologies Corp. and BellSouth Corp.

Since narrowband frequencies are well-suited for paging-type services, the PCS winners plan to offer such services. PageMart, McCaw and AirTouch all expect to have some kind of two-way service on their new frequencies by 1996.

Two-way paging would allow the recipient to acknowledge receipt of a page, and send back an alphanumeric reply.

Company officials are reluctant to be more precise about what they’ll offer, in part because they don’t want to reveal their thoughts to competitors.

“We’ve got some broader plans and other things on the drawing board (for the spectrum) but we’re just not releasing that now,” said Bob Ratliffe, vice president of corporate communications at McCaw.

Not only are planning secrets involved, but ever-expanding technology makes precise descriptions difficult.

“Some things haven’t been clearly defined, such as the length of a short message. It could be 100 characters, or longer or shorter. It depends on what technology is developed,” said Theresa Roberts, a spokeswoman for McCaw Cellular Messaging Division.

PageNet intends to launch VoiceNow on its new spectrum, a service that turns a pager into a portable answering machine. It can receive and play back voice messages. “The wireless networks are well-suited for transmitting virtually any information that can be digitized, including voice, data and images, at a relatively high transmission rate and for a very low cost,” said PageNet spokesman Scott Baradell.

PageNet also will opt for a service that will allow alphanumeric pagers to carry expanded text messages, or transmitters that can send large amounts of data, like spread sheets, and more complex images, like medical results and mug shots.

“Improved technology, and now the networks to support this technology, have opened a whole new vista of consumer and commercial applications for wireless digital networks,” Baradell said.

AirTouch wants to make paging do as much as possible, said company spokeswoman Amy Damianakes. “Nothing is carved in stone because some products don’t exist yet, but we’ll have a single national frequency to evolve paging from one-way to two-way service. The nice thing about paging devices is that they’re small, easy to use and have a long battery life, and they will grow even more popular with consumers,” Damianakes said.

“Today we offer limited services to the masses. What is coming will be highly customized services to fit the customer’s particular needs. And because there will only be a one-time development expense for software, we can offer increased customization at low prices,” Beletic said.

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