Western Wireless Corp. has spent nearly $1 billion on equipment upgrades over the last few years, and more spending is on the way.
Officials at the Bellevue-based wireless operator say the expenditures are part of its plan to make its network more compatible with those of its partners, but analysts say there may be a different explanation -- the company may be positioning itself to be acquired by a larger competitor.
Western Wireless, which employs 3,600, has about 1 million subscribers, nearly all in rural areas in the Midwest and the West Coast.
The company will spend about $190 million this year to upgrade its analog network to a digital standard known as CDMA, or code division multiple access. CDMA and other digital protocols allow for higher data transmission speeds over a wireless …