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August 12, 1987


By CBR Staff Writer

Racal Vodafone’s ambitious and imaginative plan to become a third – all cellular – force to rival British Telecom and up-and-coming Mercury Communications in the market for telephones serving private homes (CI No 741), has been carefully thought out. The additional radio frequencies that would be required to provide the cellular capacity come from a section of the radio spectrum in the GHz range, which is being reserved for mobile communications as yet undefined, as well as the frequencies reserved for the proposed pan-European cellular network, which are the 360 channels left in the 1,000-channel TACS range that are not being used by Vodafone and Cellnet. Vodafone and Cellnet are using 300 channels each and Racal has borrowed an additional 40 channels because it claims to have experienced delays in bringing base stations into operation in certain parts of London. Those 40 channels in the 872-888 MHz and the 917-933 MHz range, do not fall within the frequency span specified by CEPT for the pan-European digital network, and are used elsewhere in Europe for digital advanced cordless telephone systems. Racal must abandon those channels by the end of 1987, however.The price of portable – briefcase, pocket – cellular telephones, the most expensive kind of cellular phone, has already come down as low as $800 or UKP500 in the US. The product in question, which comes from Tandy, competes very favourably with the average price in the US of car phones, which is between $1,000 and $1,500 or UKP600 to UKP1,000, with call charges around 55 cents or 25 pence a minute. In the UK, Racal Vodafone’s and Cellnet’s service providers are free, in theory, to set whatever call charges they like. But on average users pay a connection fee of UKP50 to use the Vodafone network, plus a monthly access charge of UKP25, with call charges ranging from 33 pence for the first minute at peak times within the M25 Motorway belt and 16.5 pence for every 30 seconds thereafter during peak times to 10 pence for the first minute outside the M25 belt and 5 pence for every 30 seconds thereafter at off-peak times. Racal claims to have over 100,000 Vodafone subscribers now. Cellnet charges a UKP65 connection fee, a UKP25 monthly subscription fee and call charges ranging from 35 pence per minute within the M25 belt, during peak hours, 25 pence per minute outside the M25 belt, and 12 pence per minute at all other times. Racal is now doubling the number of base stations in London between June and December to 36 from 19. In addition, the Ministry of Defence has agreed to release 400 of its frequencies to Vodafone and Cellnet – 200 channels each – from what the two are calling the E-TACS spectrum in the 872-888 MHz and the 917-933 MHz range. This is to help alleviate congestion in the London area, and an additional 120 channels are to be made available at a later date. The problem with this is that current subscriber kit is incompatible with the E-TACS channel, although manufacturers Motorola, Panasonic, NEC, Mitsubishi, Novatel and Excell are working on the problem.

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