The company based in Show Low, Ariz., is negotiating with potential partners, including American Tower Co., AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc., to "co-locate" on existing cell phone towers to enhance Cellular One's spectrum.
Cellular One is looking to add to its 21 existing sites in the San Juan area.
The first new site, in Nageezi, is set to go up in September, Cellular One CEO Louise Finnegan said in an interview last week.
"We're a small, rural company," Finnegan said. "A lot of the big boys have kind of a stranglehold on spectrum."
Especially in rural areas such as San Juan County, major cell phone service providers are sitting on unused spectrum, Finnegan said.
"It's kind of the lifeblood of the business," she said.
Cellular One has focused on the Navajo Nation and the checkerboard of reservations south of Farmington. The company is working to catch up on coverage in the oil and gas-producing areas of the San Juan Basin.
"The Farmington area and the oil fields area are kind of a couple of the areas that we're focusing on in a huge way," Finnegan said.
Cellular One plans to roll out at least 3G technology on its network in the Farmington area, Finnegan said.
San Juan County offers some unusual obstacles for cell phone carriers.
"Because of the population density, for
Still, cell phone penetration is high in the Farmington area, Finnegan said.
"It's quitze similar to a lot of urban areas now," she said. "Cell phone penetration is way up there."
Cellular One is not the only company working to improve service in the Farmington area.
Last fall, AT&T said it was adding 10 frequency carriers in an effort to ease broadband congestion after customer complaints. The San Antonio-based company also built a new tower last year at West Maple Street and South Allen Ave.
AT&T took over Alltel's customers in the region in 2010 as part of a complex divestiture required of Verizon Communications Inc.
Verizon earlier this year added a cell site along La Plata Highway that covers from La Plata south to Jackson Lake, and another along Interstate 40 in Gallup.
"We continue to enhance our existing network to add new cell sites and also to add capacity to our existing cell sites," said Jenny Weaver, a Verizon spokeswoman based in Chandler, Ariz.
The carrier is looking to roll out what it calls a 4G LTE (long-term evolution) network. The next-generation network will be up to 10 times faster than 3G, Weaver said.