Leap to expand LTE coverage to up to 65M POPs by 2014

Cricket provider Leap Wireless (NASDAQ:LEAP) plans to expand its LTE network coverage from 20-25 million POPs by the end of this year to 60-65 million POPs by the end of 2013 or early 2014, according to Leap CEO Doug Hutcheson.

leap  ceo doug hutcheson

Hutcheson

Speaking at the 40th Annual J.P. Morgan Global Technology, Media and Telecom Conference, Hutcheson said the flat-rate carrier is on track with its LTE launch and that the company has no plans to pull back capital expenditures for LTE. He also said that LTE smartphone pricing may start to come down for consumers later this year but that will happen more into 2013. Leap plans to release two LTE devices in the fourth quarter. Leap's rival MetroPCS (NYSE:PCS) plans to launch LTE smartphones in the $99-$149 range later this year in a bid to drive more customers to LTE.  

Hutcheson said that as more customers migrate to LTE, Leap will be able to refarm spectrum it currently uses for its CDMA services. Leap owns mainly AWS spectrum but also PCS spectrum.

Interestingly, Hutcheson said that he thinks Leap has enough spectrum for the next three years as it transitions to LTE. Over the next few years Leap also plans to deploy LTE on the Lower 700 MHz A Block spectrum it received from Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) in a spectrum swap announced in November; that spectrum covers around 11 million POPs in the Chicago metro area.

The Leap chief said his company will press the FCC on the need for data roaming agreements for LTE, and said over the next few years he expects roaming agreements for LTE to be established along similar lines as they were for 3G networks.

Leap in 2010 inked an MVNO deal with Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) that allows Leap to sell its services nationwide. In March Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR) and Leap signed a five-year wholesale agreement that will allow Leap to buy capacity on Clearwire's forthcoming TD-LTE network, which Clearwire expects to launch by June 2013.

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