Flat-rate player MetroPCS (NYSE:PCS) said it will take four to six months before it launches Voice over LTE service in all 14 of its LTE markets as it works through the technical challenges of deploying VoLTE technology.
MetroPCS launched VoLTE service first in the Dallas-Ft. Worth market, and the carrier wants to use VoLTE as a way to refarm the spectrum it uses for CMDA service for LTE. Mavenir, Acme Packet, Amdocs, Genband, Hewlett-Packard and Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) have been among the vendors MetroPCS has worked with to deploy VoLTE.
"There are a number of changes that need to be made in base station optimization in Dallas," CEO Roger Linquist said at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference. "This is not your grandfather's Buick. This is a different animal." He said the transition to VoLTE is obviously possible but does take time, and that VoLTE customers in Dallas were experiencing better call quality than on CDMA.
Linquist and CFO Braxton Carter noted that the carrier now has close to 1 million LTE subscribers, up from the 700,000 it reported in late July. Carter said that the churn rate among the carrier's LTE customers was around 1 percentage point below the company's overall churn, which was 3.4 percent in the second quarter.
Linquist said that the carrier's transition to LTE gives the company freedom on multiple fronts, including spectrum. He said that the spectrum refarming, which MetroPCS plans to start next year, and LTE technology in general, "has changed dramatically our urgency and expectation of getting additional spectrum." However, Carter noted that MetroPCS will continue to be "disciplined" and "opportunistic" in looking at opportunities to acquire more spectrum; the company had $1.9 billion in cash on hand at the end of the second quarter.
The MetroPCS chief also said that the LTE smartphones the company is selling now will be able to be upgraded with new features and faster speeds in future LTE releases. "We think there's an opportunity for people to be assured that they won't have to discard their handset because there's a new technology coming in," he said.
MetroPCS is working to move its CDMA customers onto its LTE network with inexpensive phones and promotional rate plans. MetroPCS currently is offering a promotion allowing customers who purchase one LTE device for full price to receive a $50 mail-in rebate on the purchase of a second LTE smartphone. MetroPCS offers three $149 LTE smartphones, the Huawei Activa 4G, LG Motion 4G and the Coolpad Quattro 4G.
And just today, MetroPCS announced its latest LTE smartphone, the ZTE Anthem 4G, which is ZTE's first U.S. LTE smartphone. The gadget runs on Android 2.3, and sports a 1.2 GHz dual-core Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) Snapdragon processor and a 4.3-inch WVGA screen. MetroPCS said it will go on sale in the coming weeks for $219.
On the service plan side, MetroPCS for a limited time is offering unlimited voice, texting and data on LTE for just $55 per month. The promotional plan is much cheaper than similar plans offered by other LTE carriers. For example, Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) charges $30 per month for 2 GB, $50 for 5 GB and $80 for 10 GB of LTE data. MetroPCS previously offered its unlimited LTE service for $70 per month.
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