American Telephone & Telegraph Co. asked the Federal Communications Commission yesterday for permission to try out a new technology that could be used to set up a "personal communications network."
So far, the FCC has granted about 50 licenses to a variety of companies to trial test PCNs, which are small-scale cellular telephone systems that are designed for use in urban areas. If AT&T's request is granted, it would be the first major long-distance company to enter this market.
Unlike regular cellular phones, PCNs are small -- about the size of a cigarette pack -- and relatively inexpensive. As envisioned by propo
nents, PCNs would allow people to stay in touch from virtually anywhere.
PCNs have been in use in Europe for several years, but the technology has yet to make a debut in the United States.
That will change in August, when Baltimore-based American Personal Communications is scheduled to test-market its PCN technology in Baltimore and Washington. APC has teamed up with the Washington Post Co., publisher of the Washington Post, for that trial.
Providing those trials go well, APC plans to start building a PCN network in Washington later this year.
Al Grimes, APC's president, said that he would be glad to see a company of AT&T's caliber and technological expertise enter the PCN fray.
"The more credible and substantial the players, the quicker the technology will unfold," Mr. Grimes said.
In its application to the FCC, AT&T proposed using a group of high-frequency bands for which it already holds licenses. Those bands, in the 5.9 gigahertz to 6.4 gigahertz range, are currently used as maintenance channels for existing AT&T services, said Jim McGann, an AT&T spokesman.
AT&T said that its proposed trial will be conducted in three phases, potentially lasting up to three years. In its application, AT&T proposed using Boston, Atlanta and Los Angeles as test markets.