U.S. Cellular: We'll wait for an LTE iPhone

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U.S. Cellular will likely wait until Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) unveils an LTE-capable iPhone before considering whether to sell it, according to TDS CEO Ted Carlson. (TDS is the parent company of U.S. Cellular.)

"We're never going to say never about the iPhone," Carlson said. "The iPhone for us would need to be at the cutting edge of where we're going, and then there might be an opportunity to consider it." U.S. Cellular revealed last month that it had the opportunity to sell the current, non-LTE iteration of the iPhone but decided against it because it was not the right economic fit for the regional carrier.

Speaking at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference, Carlson said  the company is currently more concerned with launching its forthcoming LTE network and signing customers up for LTE service than selling the iPhone. He said that U.S. Cellular's top priority is launching LTE, lining up companies to provide LTE devices and then migrating customers to the service to give them a better experience and reduce network costs.

U.S. Cellular, which operates in 26 states, expects to cover around 25 percent of its footprint with LTE by year-end, and will launch at least one LTE smartphone and tablet in the first quarter. TDS CFO Ken Meyers said the company's full LTE buildout likely will take three years to fully complete. He said the company will likely cover another 25 percent of its footprint by the end of 2012.

Interestingly, Carlson also revealed that U.S. Cellular is working with BSS/OSS vendor Amdocs on updating the carrier's billing systems, a project he said will not be fully completed until the middle of 2013. He said the project is costly, though he did not reveal the exact amount, though he said it was akin to "changing the nervous system" of the company.

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