Leap: We're evaluating Windows Phone 8 devices

NEW ORLEANS--Cricket provider Leap Wireless (NASDAQ:LEAP) is in final discussions with Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and unnamed device vendors to sell prepaid Windows Phone 8 devices sometime later this year or early next year.

Leap's Matt Stoiber, senior vice president of the carrier's devices business, said the Cricket provider would like to expand its device offerings to include additional operating systems. Leap currently sells smartphones running Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android platform as well as Research In Motion's (NASDAQ:RIMM) BlackBerry operating system. Stoiber said the carrier is in late-stage discussions with Microsoft and Windows Phone hardware suppliers about launching the smartphones on Leap's network. However, he cautioned that no final agreements have been signed, and the situation could change.

"It seems to be a stable platform," Stoiber said of Windows Phone 8. According to various leaks, Windows Phone 8 will feature support for more screen sizes and processors, NFC and other technologies.

Stoiber declined to name the companies that could supply Leap with Windows Phone devices. Nokia (NYSE:NOK) is the platform's most vocal supporter, having staked its future on a transition from its aging Symbian platform to Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system. HTC and Samsung also support Windows Phone. Though the platform has been well received by critics, Windows Phone market share continues to struggle behind more popular platforms like Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS and Google's Android.

Windows Phone currently enjoys significant support from AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) and T-Mobile USA, but Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) aren't pushing the platform as much.

During an interview here at the CTIA Wireless trade show, Stoiber said Leap is planning to offer a number of new devices in the coming months. He said the carrier is working to expand its lineup of smartphones while concurrently pairing down the number of feature phones it sells. Interestingly, Stoiber said Leap plans to offer a number of more expensive Android phones--those veering into $300 territory--in order to meet demand among its subscriber base for high-powered, top-of-the-line smartphones.

Stoiber said Leap traditionally has offered low-cost devices to its price-sensitive users, but the nation's move toward smartphones has upended the carrier's standard practice of selling cheap or free phones.

Finally, Stoiber dropped a number of choice news nuggets:

  • In the coming months, all of Leap's phones will support the CDMA 1X Advanced standard for voice calling.
  • Leap will release two LTE devices in the fourth quarter.
  • Later this year, Leap plans to launch at least one "Tier 1" device at the same time as the nation's larger carriers. He said the event will represent a significant change in the industry--traditionally, high-end smartphones launch at Tier 1 carriers first. and then, Tier 2 prepaid carriers offer those phones.
  • Leap plans to add two or three new handset suppliers to its ranks this year. Samsung, Kyocera, Huawei and others are among Leap's current handset suppliers.

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