MetroPCS not bringing speed but LTE innovation

Lynnette LunaWhen it comes to MetroPCS' (NASDAQ:PCS) LTE strategy, I get a sense of resentment from you, FierceWireless readers. There is some seething anger because the operator isn't implementing LTE in the way that LTE has been touted: as providing blazing fast speed.

MetroPCS has been quite upfront about the fact that its LTE implementation is nothing like Verizon Wireless' (NYSE:VZ) LTE service, which launched in 38 markets Dec. 5. Rather than focusing on speed, MetroPCS is leveraging LTE for capacity--the carrier has said that voice services are cheaper to provide over LTE than on its existing CDMA network.

Why is that so bothersome to some? It's not like MetroPCS is an operator that should launch mobile broadband services. It's a prepaid, voice-focused operator. Its target demographic is different. It's not coming to market with LTE dongles, only smartphones--and low-cost smartphones at that--the first of which was the souped up, BREW-based Samsung Craft.

Moreover, MetroPCS doesn't have nearly the spectrum depth for LTE that Verizon Wireless does. In Las Vegas, MetroPCS only had 5 MHz of spectrum for its LTE layout, whereas Verizon Wireless can devote more than double that to its LTE deployment. Verizon has promised data speeds on its LTE network of between 5 Mbps and 12 Mbps; MetroPCS hasn't even provided its anticipated data speeds.

I think MetroPCS likely will have a big impact on the LTE market, in unique ways. Last week, MetroPCS chief Roger Linquist told investors at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference that a number of existing MetroPCS subscribers upgraded to the Samsung Craft, and he expects the company to launch about six more LTE smartphones by mid-2011. The operator plans to launch its first Android-based LTE smartphone in the first quarter of 2011.

The name of the game for MetroPCS is cheap smartphones, so it is playing a role in bringing down the cost of LTE smartphones. And what's more interesting to me is MetroPCS' aggressive plans for voice over LTE technology on smartphones so that it can quickly migrate customers from its CDMA network to its LTE network. VoLTE is something major operators have shown little interest in at this point.

If engineered and positioned right, cheap VoLTE service running over popular Android phones could have a sizable impact on the prepaid offerings of MetroPCS' competitors. And, of course, the move helps the VoLTE market develop, even if operators don't offer straight voice calling but desire to develop other VoLTE apps.

So it brings me back to the anger over MetroPCS' lack of high-speed data services via dongles. Perhaps it's because folks are clamoring for affordable, high-speed mobile broadband? --Lynnette

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