National Cellular Service May Be Available by 1992


Cellular phone service should be available nationwide by mid-1992 now that federal authorities have issued at least one construction permit for systems in all urban and rural areas, an industry trade group said Sunday.

The Federal Communications Commission on Friday issued 20 new permits to companies that want to offer cellular service. Two of the new permits are for Tunica County, Miss., and Kosciusko County, Ind., the only areas of the country in which cellular systems had not been authorized, the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Assn. said.

“We couldn’t ask for a much better Christmas present,” association President Robert W. Maher said. “One of our industry’s most important goals is to provide ubiquitous service across America, so that if you’re traveling, you can use your phone anywhere. Building these . . . markets makes that dream a reality.”

Cellular also will be a boon to those living in rural areas, Maher added.


The FCC has designated 306 metropolitan areas and 428 rural areas as cellular markets. It has said that two cellular operators may be licensed in each market.

All of the nation’s metropolitan cellular markets, which account for 75% of the U.S. population, has cellular service, the association said. Although the 428 rural cellular markets cover only about 25% of the population, they span about 80% of the nation’s land mass. Of the 428 rural markets, about 150 have cellular service, the association said.

The FCC, through a lottery, awarded the last cellular licenses in December, 1989. It now is in the process of awarding construction permits to the lottery winners, who then have 18 months to activate their systems.

Friday’s permit awards should assure that, by mid-1992, all areas of the nation have at least one operating cellular system.

The cellular industry also plans to introduce within 12 months to 18 months an automatic call delivery service that will allow cellular users to receive calls automatically, no matter where they are.

Currently, callers seeking someone who has traveled away from his or her local calling area must know where the person is in order to complete the call. With automatic call delivery, a person “roaming” outside the home market will send out a locating signal to the closest cellular system. Computers then will do the searching and service authorizations.

“If you’re up in Chicago, and I’m back in Washington, and all I’ve got is your local Washington number, I’m going to be able to dial that Washington number . . . and that phone call is going to find you . . . anywhere in the United States,” said Norman Black of the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Assn.

Before “seamless roaming” can be introduced in all areas, the regional Bell companies will need to receive a waiver from a 1984 consent decree that limits what long-distance and computer services the Bell companies may provide.


In September, U.S. District Judge Harold Greene Greene issued a limited waiver allowing Bell companies in some markets to introduce “intersystem handoff” so that callers traveling between some cities will not have to hang up and dial again as they pass from one cellular system to another.