MetroPCS launches $55 unlimited LTE rate plan

LG Motion 4G

LG Motion 4G

NEW YORK--Regional operator MetroPCS (NYSE:PCS) just turned the tables on the big Tier 1 operators by debuting an unlimited LTE data plan for just $55 per month. The promotional plan, which bundles unlimited voice, text and data for $55 per month, is only going to be offered for a limited time but is much cheaper than similar plans offered by other LTE carriers. For example, Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) charges $30 per month for 2 GB, $50 for 5 GB and $80 for 10 GB of LTE data.

MetroPCS is also offering families a bit of a price break: If they purchase one unlimited LTE plan for $55 per month, they can get the second, third and fourth lines for $50 per month. The new plans will not have any limits or throttling and MetroPCS will see how the promotion fares to determine how long it lasts. MetroPCS' current LTE plans throttle users' speeds after they download a certain amount of data. MetroPCS COO Tom Keys said the company is delivering average downlink speeds of 3-5 Mbps on its LTE network.

As part of the promotion, MetroPCS will also launch another low-priced LTE Android smartphone, the LG Motion 4G, for $149. The LG Motion is powered by Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) and has a 3.5-inch screen, a 1.2 GHz dual-core processor, a 5-megapixel camera and 1080p HD video recorder. The LG Motion also comes with MetroPCS' LTE mobile hotspot service, for an additional charge.

For families that purchase a second device, they will receive a mail-in rebate on the second of the two LTE smartphones, meaning that customers can get an LTE smartphone for as low as $99.

The new offerings are being sold under the marketing banner of "4G LTE for All," the culmination of the company's market strategy for the past few years. In October 2011 the company had announced it would be making major changes to its marketing campaign and broadening its customer focus to include families in the third quarter of 2012.

"This is a three and a half year march that had a vision, that has execution and hopefully gives consumers choice," MetroPCS COO Tom Keys said at a media briefing here. Keys said the company now has 48 percent of its customers on smartphones, and has 7 percent of those, or 700,000 customers, on LTE.

MetroPCS has made selling LTE smartphones at retail price points of $99 to $149 a key part of its strategy. The company has said since last year that selling phones at those prices will spur LTE adoption and allow it to refarm its spectrum (it also currently offers the Huawei Activa for $149). MetroPCS has 22 MHz of spectrum on average in its markets.

The company will have 97 percent of its CDMA footprint with LTE by the end of October; MetroPCS covers 14 major metropolitan areas with LTE. Ed Chao, senior vice president of engineering at MetroPCS, said that the company will launch Rich Communication Services (RCS) later this year to enable multimedia sharing, enhanced messaging and a presence- and network-based phonebook, among other features. Chao said the carrier will work to ensure interoperability with other carriers' RCS services, particularly around the RCS5 standard.

Chao noted that MetroPCS is the first U.S. carrier to launch Voice over LTE. He said that VoLTE will lay the foundation for additional RCS services in the future. "All of these handsets that we'll be enabling on VoLTE over the next several months will continue to evolve," he said. "We can turn on HD voice. We can turn on simultaneous voice and data services. It's just software to add new services."

Tony Lau, director of handset product marketing at the carrier, said the company will add four new LTE smartphones by year-end, including a VoLTE smartphone from Samsung, a phone from China's Coolpad, as well as a phone from ZTE and likely Samsung's Galaxy S III.

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Phil Goldstein contributed reporting from New York.