MetroPCS LTE network no comparison to what Verizon Wireless will launch

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MetroPCS (NASDAQ:PCS) became the first U.S. operator to launch a commercial LTE network this week, but the network is not one you can hold up in comparison to what Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) plans to introduce in some 30 markets later this year.

Because the operator's target demographic--the prepaid market--remains the same, MetroPCS isn't talking data speeds or even plans to offer LTE dongles. Instead it will only come to market with LTE handsets--the first of which is the Samsung Craft, which isn't a smartphone but a souped up BREW-based feature phone optimized for video with a 3.3-inch AMOLED touchscreen display, full Qwerty keyboard, 3.2-megapixel camera and WiFi.

"Speed isn't what we are trying to do," Ed Chao, senior vice president of corporate engineering and network operations, said in an interview with FierceBroadbandWireless. "We're leveraging LTE for capacity... We architected the system to enable applications that matter such as social networking, email and video."

Indeed, since MetroPCS is using just 5 megahertz of spectrum in the AWS band spectrum band, MetroPCS' LTE network's data speeds are less than what Verizon Wireless will provide in the 700 MHz band just by virtue of the way the standards are written. Verizon will use 20 megahertz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band. Verizon has indicated data speeds on its forthcoming LTE network will provide average speeds of between 5 Mbps and 12 Mbps.

Samsung didn't come to market with an LTE Android phone either as MetroPCS chose BREW because it allowed the company "to hit the hotspot in costs," Chao said.

MetroPCS said the prepaid LTE service will cost either $55 or $60 per month. In addition to Las Vegas, the carrier said more markets are "coming soon," including Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Detroit, locations in Florida, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Sacramento and San Francisco, according to a MetroPCS website. Chao said all of those markets will be rolled out before the end of the year. More LTE devices will come in 2011, he added.--Lynnette