Leap plans Wi-Fi-only ViewSonic Android tablet, more Android smartphones

ORLANDO, Fla.--Cricket vendor Leap Wireless (NASDAQ:LEAP) said it plans to release a 7-inch ViewSonic Android tablet this summer, though the device will only sport Wi-Fi and not built-in connections to the carrier's CDMA network. The carrier also plans to release two additional Android smartphones in the first half of this year and 7-8 Android phones in the second half of this year.

Leap plans to sell the Samsung Indulge, left, and the Huawei Ascend 2 sometime in the first half of this year.Also: "We'll probably have some exciting news with BlackBerry in the second half," said Matt Stoiber, vice president and general manager of device development at Leap, though he declined to provide additional details. He also noted Leap hasn't officially signed an agreement with BlackBerry vendor Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM), so the launch may not happen.

During an interview here at the CTIA Wireless 2011 trade show, Stoiber provided an in-depth look at Cricket's handset plans for the first half of this year, as well as the company's handset strategy going into the second half of this year.

On tablets, Stoiber said Leap plans to launch the ViewSonic Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android tablet in its company-owned stores sometime this summer. He said the device will run the Gingerbread version of Android, 2.3, and will be "merchandized" with Leap's Crosswave portable hotspot from Huawei. Stoiber said the device will include built-in Wi-Fi functions but not access to the carrier's network, a move that will give Leap a chance to assess the tablet opportunity via customer focus groups before moving forward on a possible tablet with built-in connections to the carrier's network. Stoiber declined to provide the price of the ViewSonic tablet.

"We are looking at an expanded tablet portfolio in the second half of the year, which we will be talking about in July," he said. "We're going to see how the first tablet does. ... It's a learning experience for us."

A variety of wireless carriers are looking toward tablets as a possible major new opportunity, though most are selling the gadgets with the type of inexpensive, prepaid plans that Leap has built its business around.

On Leap's plans for smartphones in the first half of the year, Stoiber said the carrier will offer the Samsung Indulge for between $300 and $350 and the Huawei Ascend 2 for $159. He declined to provide specific launch dates for the phones. MetroPCS (NASDAQ:PCS) launched an LTE-capable version of the Indulge earlier this year. The Ascend 2, which sports a 5-megapixel camera and a 600 MHz processor, is a slimmer, lighter version of the Ascend that Leap launched last year, a device that Stoiber said "exceeded all our expectations."

Stoiber said 10 percent of Leap's customer base moved to smartphones in the carrier's fourth quarter, and that fully 40 percent of the carrier's new customers choose smartphones.

"Now we're committed to the smartphone category," Stoiber said, noting that the carrier plans to release 7-8 Android handsets in the second half of the year. Stoiber said those forthcoming second-half devices would include ones cheaper than $150 as well as at least one higher-end phone that will sport a dual-core processor.

As for Leap's feature phones in the first half of the year, Stoiber said the carrier will sell the clamshell-style Samsung Chrono and Kyocera Luno, as well as the Qwerty-style Samsung Comment and Huawei Pillar.

Stoiber said Leap has no plans to launch webOS- or Symbian-powered phones, though the carrier is in discussions to possibly launch a Windows Phone device. However, he said a Windows Phone launch likely won't happen this year.

And as for the Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone, a CDMA version of which is now at Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ)?

"We'd be interested in selling an iPhone without a contract, but haven't had any discussions on that topic with Apple," Stoiber said.

Interestingly, Stoiber also addressed Leap's recent agreement with LightSquared for LTE roaming. He said Leap is currently working with chip vendor Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) to build chips capable of roaming from Leap's LTE network and onto the LTE network of LightSquared. Leap currently plans to build one commercial LTE trial market this year, though the carrier hasn't provided any details, including the vendors or spectrum it will use.

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