U.S. Cellular to deploy LTE in 24 markets by November

Tier 2 carrier U.S. Cellular is accelerating its plans to deploy LTE. The company, which had originally planned to deploy the next-generation technology in 2012, announced it will deploy LTE in 24 markets by November, covering approximately 25 percent to 30 percent of its total subscriber base. The company will outfit around 1,250 cell sites with LTE using its 700 MHz spectrum.

U.S. Cellular also said it will launch a full suite of LTE devices when it launches its LTE network.

Company CEO Mary Dillon said the data demands of the company's subscribers precipitated the carrier's decision to speed up its LTE deployment plans. She said smartphones represented 42 percent of all devices U.S. Cellular sold during the first quarter.

As for U.S. Cellular's first quarter earnings, the company reported service revenues of $985.1 million, an increase of 2.1 percent over the first quarter of 2010. However, it also reported a net loss of 31,000 retail customers, which is the same it experienced in the previous quarter. U.S. Cellular's total subscriber base is now 6.03 million, down from the 6.14 million it reported in the same quarter a year ago.

Dillon noted that the company's Belief Project continues to attract customers; U.S. Cellular counted 1.8 million new and existing customers on its Belief Plans at the end of the first quarter. She also said the company debuted a new advertising campaign she said will increase awareness of U.S. Cellular's network, phones and rate plans. The company plans to launch eight new smartphones over the next two quarters, including some lower priced devices, in hopes of attracting more customers.

Here's a breakdown of U.S. Cellular's key metrics for the quarter:

Subscribers: U.S. Cellular reported a net loss of 22,000 postpaid subscribers and a net loss of 9,000 prepaid subscribers. The carrier's retail gross adds were 256,000--down from its retail gross adds of 305,000 in the same quarter last year.

Churn: The carrier's postpaid churn was 1.37 percent, an improvement from the 1.41 percent it reported in the same quarter of 2010.

ARPU: U.S. Cellular's average revenue per user was $51.21, an increase from $50.70 in the first quarter of 2010.

For more:
- see this LTE release
- see this earnings release

Special Report: FierceWireless Q1 earnings page

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