MetroPCS: We won't sacrifice smartphone portfolio for the iPhone

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MetroPCS (NYSE:PCS) is open to the idea of selling an LTE iPhone from Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), but not if doing so would hurt the carrier's ability to sell the smartphones it has already committed to, according to a senior executive.

"We are mindful of the handset roadmap that we have and the commitments that we have--not by quantity commitments but by commitments to future handsets and roadmaps," MetroPCS COO Tom Keys told FierceWireless. "It would be harmful to MetroPCS to have to cut out part of our handset portfolio to accommodate one phone from one provider that the economics could be at risk."

Leap Wireless' (NASDAQ:LEAP) Cricket Communications, a MetroPCS rival, began selling the iPhone in June and has committed $900 million over three years to do so. MetroPCS and Cricket both rely on AWS spectrum for their CDMA service, and Leap is only selling the iPhone in markets where it uses PCS spectrum, since the device does not support its AWS spectrum. Those markets cover 70 percent of Leap's total covered POPs, which amounts to around 60 million POPs across the country.

Spectrum remains a key concern for MetroPCS, and the company hopes to begin refarming spectrum that it is currently using for CDMA traffic by the middle of next year. MetroPCS is working to move all its subscribers' traffic to its LTE network. As part of that effort, it is deploying Voice over LTE technology and it recently unveiled a new promotional $55 unlimited LTE plan and a $149 LTE smartphone, the LGF Motion 4G.

In a wide-ranging interview with FierceWireless,  Keys said that the company would "love" to begin refarming its first market by the middle or latter part of next year. 

Another element of the company's LTE strategy going forward will be to strike roaming deals, since MetroPCS only covers 14 major metropolitan areas with LTE. Ed Chao, the carrier's senior vice president of networks, told PC Magazine that the carrier is willing to strike LTE roaming deals with Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T), Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) and T-Mobile USA.

Chao said any such combination would be possible because VoLTE would allow it to push voice traffic onto the LTE networks of other carriers and fast network handoffs would make transitioning between other networks more seamless. T-Mobile has committed to using AWS spectrum for its LTE network, and AT&T and Verizon are likely to add AWS support to their 700 MHz-based LTE networks in the next few years, which could make a roaming agreement easier to strike.

Keys also said MetroPCS is one of the most spectrum-efficient carriers in the market, but that at some point it will need more spectrum. The company has said almost all options are on the table--and Keys said that Verizon Wireless' (NYSE:VZ) upcoming sale of its 700 MHz Lower A and B Block licenses might be an option. However, he said that whatever spectrum assets MetroPCS might obtain in the future, it would not jeopardize the company's ability to offer handsets that work with different spectrum bands since the company's handset partners operate globally and could easily add support for new radio waves.

MetroPCS is also interested in selling Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone 8 platform, and is working with an unnamed manufacturer on a device using the operating system, Keys said. He said Microsoft has an opportunity with Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 to have a true, multi-screen content strategy.

"I think Nokia (NYSE:NOK) is going to be the bellwether there for how well it does since they've made a large bet on Windows Phone 8," he said. "So at the end of the day, we think it's interesting and competition among operating systems is good for the ecosystem." 

For more:
- see this PC Magazine article

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