Company gets head start on wireless-phone market


A Brooklandville-based company said yesterday that it has been granted a "pioneer's" license to operate a "personal communications system" in the Baltimore-Washington area, giving it a head start in the scramble to offer a new generation of wireless telephone services.

The Federal Communications Commission's action gives the company, American Personal Communications Inc., approval to begin construction of a $100 million network of radio transmission sites in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, said Scott Schelle, vice president of APC. About 75 of the sites will be around Baltimore.

The pioneer's license, which recognizes American Personal Communications' role in developing personal communications system (PCS) technology, lets APC bypass the federal government's May auction of slots in the PCS radio spectrum.

PCS, which will occupy the range from 1850 to 1900 megahertz, is expected to pose a strong challenge to existing cellular technology when it starts coming on line in early 1995. Mr. Schelle said he expects that American Personal Communications will be able to offer wireless service at about one-half the price charged by the region's existing cellular phone networks, Cellular One and Bell Atlantic Mobile.

PCS will employ digital technologies to improve the quality and security of current cellular technologies, Mr. Schelle said. PCS phones are expected to be smaller than today's cellular phones and use less power.

The network will be operated by APC, a joint venture of American Personal Communications and The Washington Post Co., which will be a limited partner and will provide most of the financing.

Individual radio sites might be small, but cumulatively the $100 million APC project could be one of the largest regional capital-spending projects in 1994.

Mr. Schelle said construction of the network could create hundreds of permanent and temporary jobs as APC builds its staff, buys materials and employs construction contractors.

APC itself expects to employ 250 to 500 people by the time the system is up and running, Mr. Schelle said.

Mr. Schelle said the early rollout will make Baltimore-Washington one of the first U.S. markets to get PCS technology, just as it was to get cellular phone service when his father launched Cellular One.

The area to be covered by APC stretches from Havre de Grace to Fredericksburg, Va., and from Ocean City to Cumberland. The region has an estimated population of 8 million.

APC's license will be one of two regionwide 30-megaherz PCS li

censes to be granted by the FCC. The other will be auctioned.

Five other licenses covering smaller areas within the region will also be auctioned.

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