April 20, 2019

Cellular telephone service expanding to include the County > Unicel heads north with call coverage

Since the first cellular telephone service in the United States became available in Chicago in 1983, the industry has grown by leaps and bounds.

Regular cellular service soon will extend to Aroostook County, where Unicel is building four antennas to serve the County.

Unicel, which is owned by Unity Telephone, started providing service to the Bangor area in 1988, when it installed antenna Rick O’Connor, Unicel general manager, says his company has about 10,000 customers in its service area, which includes Lincoln, Knox, Kennebec, Waldo, Somerset, Piscataquis and Penobscot counties. Some of this area also is served by U.S. Cellular, Unicel’s competitor.

During its four years in the area, Unicel’s customer base has changed, O’Connor said. It used to be mostly lawyers, doctors and chief executive officers. The price has come down, and now people such as contractors and landscapers are taking advantage of the service.

Four years ago, cellular equipment cost $600 to $2,000. Today, the average cost for car phones is about $300.

“The average monthly bill is between $60 and $75,” O’Connor said. “It has become a handy tool for business. It makes people’s days more productive.”

Bruce Johnson, Unicel sales manager, said that increasing numbers of the phones are being purchased for potential emergencies. People with heart conditions might use cellular phones to make a long car drive less fearful.

Unicel will spend in the neighborhood of $2 million to extend service to Aroostook County. The company thinks the investment will pay off, but O’Connor said it would take years to recoup the initial expenditure.

“There’s a lot of anticipation up there for this coverage,” said Johnson. He expects about 1,500 County customers. The company also expects a lot of people from outside the County, including Canadians, to use the system when they’re driving in the area.

Canadians, who wouldn’t be signed up with Unicel, would pay what the company calls “roaming revenues,” payments to hook into the phone network to make calls. That revenue is opposed to “home” revenue, payments by regular Unicel customers. O’Connor said that roaming revenue could account for as much as one-third of the company’s take.

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