A cellular operator with New England properties launched a digital cellular network on the specialized mobile radio frequency in Hawaii, saying it is the first non-traditional cellular company to accomplish this feat.

Officials with Atlantic Cellular Co. of Colchester, Vt., said they have explored the idea for about three years, and only now are in the process of purchasing the spectrum from the license holders.

The company had to request permission from the Federal Communications Commission to use cellular equipment in the 850 MHz SMR frequency band.

The company also petitioned the FCC to modify interference parameters for the SMR frequencies.

The new system is controlled by Hawaiian Wireless, of which Atlantic Cellular investors hold a majority interest. The company has built 25 sites on the island of Oahu, with additional sites planned for the end of the first quarter.

Hawaiian Wireless said it is using 7 megahertz of spectrum at this time.

The company is doing two things it believes are unique. One idea builds on the first-minute-free success of American Personal Communications; the other is drawn from an old practice of the Bell companies.

First, Hawaiian Wireless’ target customers are small business users who make many short calls. The Hawaiian Wireless service plans look like this:

$65 per month, three minutes free per call, 15 cents peak/6 cents off peak airtime rates;

$36 per month, 2 minutes free per call, 22 cents peak/7 cents off peak airtime rates;

$22 per month, 1 minute free per call and 30 cents airtime anytime.

Second, handset terminals are not given away or bought by the customer. Hawaiian Wireless provides the phone as part of the monthly access fee. If the customer terminates service, the phone is returned and the electronic portion can be reused, the company said.

Equipment is provided by Ericsson Inc., which modified its digital cellular infrastructure to operate on the SMR frequency.

The Hawaii system is using Interim Standard 136 Time Division Multiple Access technology.

Customers have six-inch dual-mode phones that operate at digital TDMA and analog cellular frequencies, which allow the customer to roam onto one of the other Hawaiian cellular networks.

The phone also can operate on the SMR and cellular frequency bands.

Ericsson said it hopes to sell the “downbanded” equipment elsewhere, and said it is working with Latin American companies.

Hawaii was selected for the project because it has high penetration rates and available SMR channels, the company said.

Atlantic Cellular owns seven rural service areas, California 11, Massachusetts 1, New Hampshire 1 and 2, New York 2 and Vermont 1 and 2.

The company won five E-block and four D-block personal communications services licenses at auction last month. The company said it may implement digital cellular on SMR frequencies in other U.S. areas.

This use will increase SMR values, provide competition for integrated Dispatch Enhanced Network and give smaller SMR players new options, said Alan Shark, president of the American Mobile Telecommunications Association. Hawaiian Wireless will compete with BellSouth Corp., GTE Corp. and Western Wireless Corp., and others.


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