Cellular phone changing ways


January 20, 1991|By BILL BURTON

Remember when boating and fishing were considered escapes -- a way to get away from it all? Alas, no more. The cellular phone is changing all that.

And the more inexpensive the mobile phones and their servic options, the more evident they are on boats of all sizes. Small boaters claim they favor cellulars for emergency communications, but it's not uncommon for them to carry on business as usual on the water.

Outfitter Ken Penrod of Outdoor Life Unlimited has had anglin clients pass him a rod while fighting a fish so they could answer rings of cellular phones.

Mr. Penrod, who works mostly on the Potomac River i Washington, said some guides phone restaurants for luncheon reservations for more affluent clients, or to place pickup food orders.

Are the traditional brown bag and ice chest lunches endangere species? And how about all the worries and pressures one usually leaves at the docks, stresses that can now follow one on the water?

Aboard boats, we have long had an avenue for communication with other boats and shore-siders via marine radio, CB and marine telephone operators, but now comes a telephone system that's as easy to use as the home or business phone.

In addition to simplicity, cellular hookups offer a moderat monthly fee, increased coverage, and probably most important to many users, there is what seems to be increased -- but not perfect -- privacy to match that available in traditional land phone systems. No longer are private or business conversations broadcast on frequencies commonly monitored on traditional scanners.

More on that in a moment. First some background on th increased marine cellular use on the Chesapeake Bay. Until recently, many "dark" areas existed where transmission was marginal at best.

Now, master switching sites at Adelphi, Catonsville, and i northern Virginia are backed up with cell sites at Salisbury, Berlin, East Newmarket, and Wye Mills on the Eastern Shore, and Hollywood in southern Maryland. And there are switch-over procedures that automatically route calls from one station to another to ensure better transmission.

In addition, there are big improvements in the technology o individual cellular phones, some of which sell for less than $100.

Jerry Reamer of Poptronics showed me a shirt pocket model of .6 watt model -- the most powerful allowed for hand-held units -- that he uses while fishing the upper bay. It weighs 19 ounces, is 2 5/8 by 7 7/8 by just short of two inches. By FCC standards, permanent installations can be as powerful as three watts.

Users pay an additional activation fee of about $50 to plug thei sets into the system. There are monthly service plans starting at $14.95 to cover 200 minutes of call time on weekends and evenings, 65 cents a minute at other times. Long distance charges are extra.

A $39 monthly charge allows 60 minutes of daytime use, 6 minutes on evenings and weekends. For a nominal fee there is the Follow Me Roaming Service that automatically keeps a user in contact with the master system wherever he is.

So the cellular concept is here to stay. But does it provide th privacy many assume because it communicates on frequencies not commonly monitored in the traditional radio concept?

On the personal side, I recall an evening when I was waiting fo an open line to a marine telephone operator, the transmissions of which are carried on both telephone and marine radio.

A commercial fisherman was calling his wife to tell her h couldn't come home that night because of a big catch that had to be unloaded. Then he called another woman to plan a rendezvous, all of this on an open channel.

Twenty minutes later he got a call from his wife. No, she didn' have a marine radio receiver, but she had a friend who did. So be careful what you say, whatever the means of communication.

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