MetroPCS to allow VoIP over LTE

MetroPCS (NASDAQ:PCS) announced it will allow VoIP services over its new LTE network. The carrier disclosed the news in a response it filed with the FCC to accusations that its new LTE service plans run afoul of the agency's newly minted net neutrality rules.

In its 20-page filing, MetroPCS laid out the reasoning behind its launch of LTE network technology, and explained why--at least initially--it did not support VoIP calling services on LTE. The carrier said its existing CDMA 1X network didn't provide the data speeds to support VoIP, and that there wasn't a VoIP client for its BREW-based handsets.

"Restrictions on VoIP services initially were carried over to 4G LTE services because the first handset--the Samsung Craft--also was BREW-enabled. However, as MetroPCS continued rolling out its 4G LTE network, reviewed the commission's new net neutrality rules, planned for the recently-announced arrival of an Android-based handset for its 4G LTE service and drew upon its experience with 1xRTT Android handsets, MetroPCS revisited the prior restrictions on VoIP Services," the carrier wrote. "Having completed this review process, MetroPCS now allows all of its 4G LTE customers to utilize VoIP Services on any handset that is technically capable of using such a service."

Consumer groups, including Free Press and Media Access project, in January said MetroPCS' LTE service plans violated the FCC's new net neutrality rules by blocking access to select websites, by making access to sites such as Netflix and Hulu more expensive than sites like YouTube, and by blocking Skype service outright.

In its response, MetroPCS said it doesn't block access to any legal websites. However, the carrier said it does provide priority access to YouTube content. MetroPCS said that, before it launched LTE, it worked with an unnamed hardware vendor and YouTube to "compress" YouTube traffic so that the service would work over MetroPCS' slower-speed CDMA 1X network. MetroPCS said it did so because YouTube was a popular video site that its larger wireless rivals provided access to, thus requiring a competitive response from MetroPCS. The carrier said it is now working to migrate its existing CDMA customers onto its LTE network and it needs to offer comparable services on LTE--including service plans that cover YouTube content--in order to entice users to make the switch.

"It is no surprise that customers wanted access to YouTube, and MetroPCS cannot be faulted for responding to these market demands, particularly when YouTube was available on competitor systems," MetroPCS wrote. "To its knowledge, MetroPCS has never been approached by Vimeo, or by any other YouTube competitor seeking access, and has no intention of unreasonably discriminating against them."

MetroPCS does charge an additional fee to users who stream video that is not on YouTube. "Since Multimedia Streaming places obvious burdens on network capacity, providing a discount for customers who opt not to use such services clearly is a reasonable network management technique," the carrier wrote.

MetroPCS concluded: "The reality is that MetroPCS operates in a highly competitive wireless marketplace dominated by larger entrenched incumbents. As a result, the company must continually strive to offer consumers an exceptional value proposition by managing its costs, maximizing its relatively limited spectrum assets, offering differentiated services and becoming the champion of consumer-friendly broadband wireless service plans. Disapproving MetroPCS' rate plans, or subjecting the company to a distracting investigation, would not foster an open Internet."

Under the FCC's net neutrality rules, which were approved by a 3-2 vote in December, wireless carriers are barred from blocking services such as Google Voice and Skype that compete with their own voice and video offerings, as well as those in which they have an attributable interest. Carriers also face transparency requirements on network management policies and a basic "no-blocking" rule on lawful content and applications.

An FCC representative declined to comment on MetroPCS' filing, and noted that the agency's net neutrality rules have not yet gone into effect.

For more:
- see this MetroPCS filing (PDF)

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