MetroPCS counts 500,000 LTE customers, hunts for more spectrum

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MetroPCS (NASDAQ:PCS) currently has around 500,000 total LTE subscribers out of a customer base of 9.34 million, a senior company executive said. That proportion of LTE customers--roughly 5 percent--is similar to figures that Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) disclosed in February. 

Speaking at the Barclays Capital 2012 High Yield Bond and Syndicated Loan Conference, MetroPCS' Keith Terreri said that most LTE customers are gravitating toward the company's $50 and $60 LTE plans since the company's $40 LTE plan is capped at 100 MB of data streaming. MetroPCS has deployed a 5X5 MHz LTE network in 14 of its markets, and while Terreri, vice president of finance for MetroPCS, acknowledged that the network offers slower speeds than the LTE networks from Verizon and AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T), he said it is a major improvement over the company's 1XRTT network. 

Terreri said that customers on the $50 plan, which has a 1 GB cap on multimedia streaming, are using about as much data as the plan affords them. He said customers on the $60 plan use an average of 2 GB to 2.5 GB per month. The MetroPCS exec also said that because the company has invested significantly in its LTE network, the company is looking at adding an additional, higher price tier for its LTE plans.  

Terreri also reiterated MetroPCS' desire to launch LTE Android smartphones in the second half of the year between $99 to $149. He said that the company is working with five OEMs on those devices, and he said the company hopes to offer $99 phones by the end of the year.

In addition to discussing the company's LTE efforts, Terreri talked about the company's options to acquire more spectrum, which he described as MetroPCS' top strategic priority. Terreri said MetroPCS has around $1 billion to $1.5 billion to spend on spectrum. He reiterated comments MetroPCS executives have made in the past that MetroPCS is interested in buying capacity from Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR) or using Clearwire's forthcoming TD-LTE network as an overlay for network hotspots.

"In our markets we prefer to own the spectrum, and therefore we can control the customer experience," he said. "Outside of our markets, we're going to need partners, particularly from a 4G perspective, we're going to need roaming." Earlier this month Clearwire inked a five-year wholesale agreement with MetroPCS' chief competitor, Cricket provider Leap Wireless (NASDAQ:LEAP), that will allow Leap to buy capacity on Clearwire's forthcoming TD-LTE network. Clearwire expects to launch that network by the middle of 2013.

Terreri acknowledged that there might be difficulty in using Clearwire's spectrum if the device ecosystem isn't developed well enough to take advantage of the spectrum. He also said MetroPCS is exploring buying spectrum or capacity from Dish Network or acquiring AWS spectrum Verizon might have to divest as a result of its deals to buy $3.9 billion worth of that spectrum from cable companies. However, Terreri made no commitments to any particular option. 

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