Leap's LTE rollout to start next week

SAN DIEGO--Cricket provider Leap Wireless (NASDAQ:LEAP) plans to begin turning on its LTE network starting next week. The carrier said it will flip the switch on one LTE market next week and will then announce additional markets in November.

Leap spokesman Greg Lund said the carrier plans to have 21 million POPs covered by year-end and two-thirds of its current network footprint covered with LTE by 2015.

As for LTE devices, Lund said Leap's LTE market launch next week will be supported by a broadband-only device, the Huawei Boltz modem. In November, Lund said Leap will add two LTE smartphones to its lineup, though he declined to provide details.

Interestingly, Leap currently sells the LTE-capable iPhone 5. Lund declined to say whether Leap would support the iPhone 5's LTE capabilities with its forthcoming LTE network.

Leap launched an LTE test market in Tucson, Ariz., at the end of 2011. The carrier sells the Boltz in that market.

Lund declined to provide additional details about Leap's LTE buildout, including which vendors are supplying the carrier's network equipment and what spectrum Leap is using for its LTE buildout. Leap's network equipment suppliers have included Huawei, Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) and Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE:ALU).

Leap's network launch comes at a critical time for the company. Leap in the second quarter announced a significant shortfall in subscribers and revenues. Leap said it expects similarly troubling results in the third quarter.

Leap has also said it does not feel it is contractually obligated to make its $75 million minimum wholesale purchase commitment of network access from Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S). However, the company has said it expects to pay "a significant majority" of it anyway and the two companies are holding discussions on the issue. Leap signed a wholesale agreement with Sprint in 2010. The agreement allowed Leap--a regional wireless carrier headquartered in San Diego--to take its offerings nationwide, beyond the markets where it operated its own network.

Leap is just the latest major U.S. carrier to join the LTE party. Leap rival MetroPCS (NYSE:PCS) was one of the first carriers in the world to launch LTE in 2010, and was followed by Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) shortly thereafter. More recently, AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) and Sprint have begun their own LTE buildouts. T-Mobile USA plans to launch LTE next year.

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