U.S. Cellular is testing VoLTE in 3 markets but has no timeline for commercial launch

U.S. Cellular (NYSE:USM) is currently testing VoLTE in three markets but the company has not set a timeframe for commercial deployment of the service. U.S. Cellular President and CEO Ken Meyers told investors at the Wells Fargo Securities Technology, Media & Telecom conference that he expects VoLTE will have a multi-year rollout similar to the company's LTE service, which it deployed over a four-year time period.  

Meyers said that the company's engineers have uncovered a few issues with the VoLTE service, such as handset performance problems, but overall there have been no surprises so far.

Interestingly, Meyers also said that the company's tower portfolio (which it still owns) is an important asset when it comes to deploying VoLTE. "With this next evolution from LTE to VoLTE, you have to move to the top of the tower," he said, adding that it's more economical for the company to reuse its existing tower space rather than rent additional space on other towers. "Our network quality is the underpinning to our strategy," Meyers said, adding that he doesn't expect the company to change its position on owning its towers between now and the end of the company's VoLTE deployment.

When asked about the upcoming 600 MHz incentive auction, Meyers said that the company will participate in the auction and will try to secure 600 MHz spectrum in markets where it doesn't already have low-band spectrum and also where it needs additional capacity. Meyers noted that the company has 850 MHz spectrum or 700 MHz spectrum across most of its footprint.

Meyers added that he's not concerned about potential interference issues between the 600 MHz spectrum and the 850 MHz spectrum because he believes that engineers will be able to solve any potential problems by the time the 600 MHz spectrum is ready to be deployed.

U.S. Cellular ended the third quarter with 4.72 million subscribers. The company added 12,000 prepaid customers in the third quarter, which was up from 8,000 in the second quarter and a turnaround from a loss of 2,000 prepaid subscribers in the third quarter of 2014.

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