Sprint PCS working in Steamboat

— Two years after the company first showed interest in Steamboat Springs' wireless phone market, Sprint PCS has finally unveiled its digital mobile phone service here.

Denver-based Sprint spokesman Dave Mellin said this week the company has begun offering the capability for Steamboat residents and visitors to tie into Sprint's national all-digital network. Sprint had initiated a request to build a wireless phone antenna on Howelsen Hill in October 1999. Subsequently, the city called a moratorium on new telecommunications antennae until it could rewrite the pertinent sections of its community development code to reflect the rapidly changing industry.

Sprint abandoned plans for Howelsen Hill in March, although the company's engineers had determined it was the optimum site in terms of coverage. They cited the city park's status as a historic site and potential conflicts as the reason for turning away from the Howelsen site.

Sprint has now activated its antenna on Bogue Hall of the Colorado Mountain College Campus. The antenna actually consists of three, 6-by-4 foot panels, painted to match the red brick of the building.

Mellin said the availability of the all-digital network means Steamboat customers will be able to purchase wireless phones that can do more than just transmit voice conversations. "The great thing is that when you're on our network, which is a national network, you have access to the Web and e-mail," Mellin said.

Early in 2002, Mellin expects his company to bring its new 3G, or third generation technology to the marketplace. It will allow customers to use their wireless phones to access the Web at 144k, more than twice as fast as a dial-up 56k modem on a computer, he said. That should allow users to open their e-mail and view jpeg photo attachments.

Mellin said his company has anticipated that the demands on its local antenna sites will increase dramatically during tourist seasons.

He said that before the end of the year, Sprint would have enough capacity to handle the demand.

"By the end of the year, we'll have a second site on air and once that is up and running, we should have ample capacity," Mellin said.

Sprint's "all-digital" network is in place between Steamboat Springs and Craig, but wireless phone users traveling between Steamboat and Denver will find their dual band phones have switched over to analog in order to complete the call.

Typically, once on the Sprint network, a phone call is a phone call, no matter where a customer is calling. When travelers in Northwest Colorado find their calls have been switched to analog, they'll also find that their calls are subject to roaming charges.

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