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Providers: work being done to upgrade cell coverage

Cell phone users in North Dakota experience trouble with reception in some areas and providers Verizon Wireless and Alltel, which is transitioning to AT&T, claim certain measures are being taken to ensure the best coverage locally.

AWTY Maps of Dickinson provides detailed maps and driving directions to oil well sites and county roads in the rugged parts of western North Dakota, GIS Analyst and Field Manager Jared Auch said.

"When we have poor reception it slows communication, which is a hindrance to our business," he said.

Quality coverage has become more vital as the mapping company develops a smart phone application providing turn-by-turn directions available directly from the cellular device, he said.

"The application is dependent on cellular signal," Auch said. "If the customer does not have service, they can't use our product to its full capabilities."

To allow customers use in spotty coverage, developers will create an offline mode with limited functions.

Local service providers say upgrades are being made to better coverage, including decreasing dropped calls and static.

"We continually invest in improvements in our North Dakota network and nationally," Verizon Great Plains Region Public Relations Manager Karen Smith said. "In 2010 we invested $17.3 million in our North Dakota network adding 17 new cell sites, upgrading equipment on more than 130 existing sites to increase the coverage and capacity of our 3G high-speed wireless network."

Smith said the additional cell locations have improved voice and data coverage in Golden Valley, Billings, Burleigh, Mountrail, Renville, Ward, McHenry and Benson counties.

"I am pleased with the service in our area now," said Billings County resident Kevin Richard. "Over the past few years I have noticed better coverage in the out of town, even in the Badlands."

As AT&T overtakes Alltel in the area, representatives say the Alltel network will be improved to ensure quality coverage. The AT&T transition is being made as a result of AT&T's acquisition of assets from Verizon Wireless in June.

"AT&T has been working tirelessly to upgrade the Alltel network to the nation's fastest mobile broadband network, and we expect that coverage in these areas will be as good as -- if not better than -- it is today," said Brian Jones, director of sales, AT&T North Dakota. "Our preparations will ensure that we deliver superior customer experience when we launch service."

AT&T released a statement in September expecting services to be available by the end of 2010 or beginning of 2011. Now, there are no specifics for a transition date, but AT&T spokesperson Amy Grundman said the company is still on track to launch service in the beginnings of 2011.

Through the transition AT&T will acquire 1.6 million customers nationally. Customers' information is not released at the local or state level.

"It is important to note that once AT&T's transition is complete, we'll have expanded our mobile broadband footprint to nearly 50 new service areas and by more than 400,000 square miles, primarily on our 850 MHz spectrum, which provides better mobile broadband connectivity and performance and enhanced in-building wireless coverage," Grundman said.