Leap launches LTE service in Tucson

Cricket provider Leap Wireless (NASDAQ:LEAP) launched LTE service in Tucson, Ariz., fulfilling its pledge to launch commercial LTE operations by year-end and joining a growing list of U.S. LTE carriers.

Leap said that pre-launch  tests conducted in the Tucson market, showed speeds ranging from five to 10 times faster than current EV-DO data speeds.  The company added that more than 90 percent of Cricket's Tucson market footprint will be covered with LTE and further expansion is planned for nearby Nogales, Ariz., in 2012. The carrier first disclosed in July that Tucson would be its first market.

As expected, Leap's first LTE device is a Huawei-made USB modem, the Boltz E397, which it will sell for $150. Interestingly, unlike Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) and flat-rate rival MetroPCS (NYSE:PCS), Leap will charge customers not based upon how much data they use but on what speed they would prefer to receive. Each of Leap's LTE data plans offers 5 GB of data per month. Leap is charging $50 per month for the plan offering up to 3 Mbps service and $60 per month for the plan offering up to 6 Mbps service.

Leap said in October that it will cover a total of 25 million people with LTE by the end of 2012. The carrier said it expects to spend around $250 million on the buildout through the end of next year. Leap plans to cover two-thirds of its existing CDMA network with LTE technology within the next two to three years. The carrier said its LTE device roadmap is expected to grow steadily from modems to smartphones and ultimately other devices such as tablets.

Leap spokesman Greg Lund told FierceWireless that Alcatel-Lucent (NASDAQ:ALU) is the primary network equipment vendor for Leap's LTE service in Tucson, and that other vendors will support Leap's rollout of LTE, though he declined to name them. Lund also declined to comment on specific markets Leap has planned for LTE launches in 2012.

Other Tier 2 carriers are also planning LTE launches. U.S. Cellular has indicated it will launch LTE service by year-end and release its first LET devices in the first quarter. C Spire Wireless also plans to launch LTE in the near future.

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