FARMINGTON — Regional wireless telecommunications company Cellular One is making a renewed effort to break into the Farmington cellular market as it upgrades its mobile broadband services for faster data speeds for service that extends into rural areas.

The company is preparing for a November launch of upgrades to its wireless network technology to allow 4G-like data speeds to compete with national carriers such as AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon.

"Our existing customers are definitely going to note the difference and we're going to be competitive with the big carriers," director of marketing Nicole Edgington said. "It'll be a big upgrade for us. We hope to start to develop some customers here in this market."

Cellular One has spent about $40 million on upgrading its cell sites across the Four Corners area during the last nine months in areas that include the Navajo Nation and remote oil field roads.

"We take pride in the fact we go into places where nobody else does," spokesman Kelly Wood said. "We invest in bringing coverage to folks that never had it before, on the Navajo Nation in particular."

San Juan County currently has 34 cell sites with all but four being converted for faster data speeds. Eight new sites are scheduled to be installed by the end of the year.

"It's a market that has been very tough for us to get into," Edgington said. "You either want to go with Verizon, AT&T or T-Mobile, that's how most people are ... Changing carriers is a tough decision and it's hard for people."

Edgington described the current wireless data setup delivering speeds less than 2 megabits per second (mbps) downstream and around 200 kilobits per second upstream. The new service could deliver about 6 to 8 mbps downstream and anywhere from 2 to 4 mbps upstream.

The faster data service will enable customers to access social media services like Facebook and Twitter quicker, stream media like music and video files to their phones and use mobile applications on smartphones.

Cellular One workers use a crane to install new equipment atop a new cell tower in Sheep Springs.
Cellular One workers use a crane to install new equipment atop a new cell tower in Sheep Springs. (Courtesy of Cellular One )

With the introduction of faster mobile broadband speeds, Cellular One will be able to offer popular cell phones like the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the new Apple iPhone along with data-only devices like tablet computers and wireless mobile hotspots.

Providing faster mobile broadband speeds and the latest devices have been difficult for regional wireless providers when competing with large, national providers.

Leaco Rural Telephone Cooperative operates NMobile, a regional wireless provider in southeast New Mexico and the company is currently installing 3G upgrades for its mobile broadband services after a federal grant was approved for bringing high speed internet services to rural areas.

NMobile marketing and sales manager Charity Benton said money has always been an issue for smaller carriers to build additional cell sites for rural areas.

"We have areas where being a co-op we couldn't build to reach every customer when they are 20 to 30 miles apart," Benton said.

There are a lot of oil field workers in South East New Mexico that NMobile strives to bring wireless coverage to as most of the large providers ignore, Benton said.

For NMobile,

Benton said the biggest city served by NMobile is Hobbs, a highly competitive market where AT&T provides services and where Verizon recently entered the area.

"Our biggest challenge isn't service, our service locally is good if not better than theirs," Benton said. "It's access to devices."

As Cellular One ramps up for the 4G data rollout, Edgington said she hopes items like its 24/7 customer care center staffed with Navajo and Apache speakers and coverage of rural areas will bring customers to the service.

"We feel like this is an untapped market for us because we haven't been able to compete technology-wise," Edgington said. "Now that we can, we want people to recognize our name. We're just looking for a chance."

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 and jkellogg@daily-times.com. Follow him @jkelloggdt on Twitter.