Cellular One said yesterday its regional cellular phone system will be upgraded to all-digital by January, allowing customers to use a new generation of digital phones as soon as they hit the retail shelves next year.
Digital technology offers better reception, greater capacity and more security -- for conversations and data -- than the current analog technology.
"When the phones come out, our customers will immediately be able to use digital," said Angela Byerly, a spokeswoman for Cellular One, the cellular arm of Southwestern Bell.
Cellular One began upgrading its cell sites, which are basically small receiving stations that sort and route cellular phone calls, in June. When construction is complete in January, Cellular One will have 100 digital cells covering more than 11,000 square miles in the Baltimore-Washington region and parts of West Virginia and Virginia.
Though Cellular One declined to say how much the upgrades cost, Herschel Shosteck, a cellular consultant in Silver Spring, pegged the cost in the $10 million to $15 million range, about 10 percent of what it cost to build the system.
According to Ms. Byerly, construction costs won't be passed along to customers in the form of higher service fees.
Ms. Byerly said Cellular One customers also needn't worry about their cellular phones becoming outmoded overnight. That's because the new system will accommodate both analog and digital phones, part of the industry plan for ushering in the digital cellular technology.
The first digital phones, which will work with analog and digital cellular systems, are expected to be shipped to retailers after the first quarter of 1992. These dual-mode phones are expected to cost about $650, far higher than the $100 to $200 price tag of existing analog models.