Leap expands LTE network, launches new LTE smartphones, rate plans

CFO Jerry Elliott becomes president and COO
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Cricket provider Leap Wireless (NASDAQ:LEAP) launched LTE service in eight more markets and released its first two LTE smartphones and a new rate plan as part of a bid to bulk up its nascent LTE network. The company also revealed a management shakeup that moved CFO Jerry Elliott to the role of president and COO.

Leap Cricket LTE Samsung Galaxy S 3 III

Leap will sell the LTE-capable Galaxy S III from Samsung.

Leap, which launched LTE service in Tucson, Ariz., as a test market in December 2011, expanded its network to Las Vegas in October. Now the prepaid carrier said its LTE network is up and running in Philadelphia and Phoenix, as well as in Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Laredo, Corpus Christi and Brownsville-McAllen-Harlingen, Texas. Leap plans to have 21 million POPs covered by year-end and two-thirds of its current network footprint covered with LTE by 2015.

In addition to the network expansion, Leap introduced the Samsung Galaxy S III and LG Optimus Regard as its first two LTE smartphones. The high-end S III, which has been available through numerous U.S. carriers since this summer, will retail for $550. The mid-range Optimus Regard, which is essentially the LG Motion 4G that MetroPCS (NYSE:PCS) offers, runs on Android 4.0 and sports a 3.5-inch screen, 1.2 GHz dual-core processor and a 5-megapixel camera. Leap will sell the Optimus Regard for $250. 

Leap is also, for a limited time, pairing the phones with rate plans that offer double the amount of data in comparable 3G CDMA smartphone plans, as well as unlimited voice and texting and access to Leap's Muve Music service. The $50 plan allows 2 GB of full-speed data, the $60 plan allows 5 GB of full-speed data and the $70 plan offers 10 GB of full-speed data. Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) launched a similar promotion in late 2011 and early 2012 to entice customers to sign up for LTE smartphones.

Leap is also making some management changes. Elliott, who had been overseeing a strategic review of the company, will assume day-to-day operational management of the company's field operations, customer operations and supply chain functions. Leap said Perley McBride was appointed CFO to replace Elliott; McBride previously served as executive vice president of finance at the Weather Co., which runs the Weather Channel.

Leap lost 269,000 subscribers and saw its churn rise to 4.8 percent in the third quarter. However, the flat-rate carrier said it is taking steps to improve its customer experience.

For more:
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- see this spearate release

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