It's no big deal to see people talking on telephones in their cars anymore. And portable cellular phone users can be seen taking care of business in restaurants, in hallways, in waiting rooms, on Main Street.
But sometime this winter, after US WEST activates its newest cell in the area of Summit and Wasatch counties on Nov. 15, cellular communications will enter new realms of future shock.Prepare yourself for Park City/Deer Valley skiers who make deals while carving turns; fishing enthusiasts who check with their brokers from the middle of Deer Creek reservoir; deer hunters who phone home from mid-mountain to say they'll be late for dinner; snowmobilers who call the sheriff's office to report they're lost.
The new cell doesn't mean the entire state will be accessible to cellular phone users next month, but it completes the system in northern Utah and fills in what Rob Spafford, manager of the Wasatch Front office of US WEST Cellular, says has been the biggest hole in local cellular service.
Cells covering Logan and Brigham City came on line July 21 on the heels of the Cedar City/Richfield/St. George cell that was activated in June, joining Salt Lake, Ogden and Provo, which have been in operation several years.
The new cell slated to turn on next month will cover Park City, Coalville, Heber City, Kamas and Midway.
The principal cellular gap remaining, said Spafford, is from Nephi to Cedar City, an area slated to come on line in about a year. Parleys Canyon and Sardine Canyon, south of Logan, are also currently without coverage, but Spafford said that gap will be filled in by next spring.
"The single most asked question we hear is when will we expand the coverage," said Spafford. "Well, in 18 months there will be continuous coverage throughout the state."
Customers of Cellular One, US WEST's local competitor, will be allowed access or "roaming" on the new Park City cell, said Spafford, because US WEST is currently the only cellular company licensed in that area.
US WEST Cellular opened its Salt Lake office in 1985, so it's no longer a fledgling industry, but Spafford said the business shows no sign of peaking with a growth rate of 75 percent to 85 percent depending on the month of the year, compared with about 65 percent nationally. Spafford said growth has slowed somewhat in larger markets because cellular service has been available longer.
Urban areas have been the first to receive cellular coverage, but it is a major boon to rural areas, the more remote of which have had no telephone service at all. Spafford noted that on an elk hunt earlier this month, he was able to check with his office daily while on a mountain peak at 11,000 feet.
As for the technology, it continues to become more reliable and more compact. While the Motorola model will fit in a pocket and a new Mitsubishi version is smaller still, Spafford said he thinks the era of a "Dick Tracy"-like phone of wristwatch proportions isn't far off.
US WEST Cellular plans to open a new customer service facility in Ogden on Jan. 2 with a staff of about 35.
There are currently some 25,000 cellular users, including Cellular One customers, along the Wasatch Front, Spafford said.