U.S. Cellular will begin VoLTE user trials in a few markets this year

U.S. Cellular (NYSE:USM) will begin testing Voice over LTE service with users in a handful of markets this year. Speaking at the Citi 2015 Internet, Media and Telecommunications Conference on Tuesday, CEO Ken Meyers said that in 2015 the company will focus on finishing its LTE rollout and will begin a VoLTE user trial in "two or three" markets.

Meyers comments are notable because back in 2012 U.S. Cellular revealed in a filing with the FCC that it had started testing VoLTE.  However, at that time the company didn't provide any details or time frame for a commercial launch of the service. Meyers didn't reveal further details on the VoLTE trial during his appearance at the conference other than to say that a strong LTE network is important for VoLTE so that customers do not experience dropped calls.

When U.S. Cellular reported its third-quarter results at the end of October, the company said its LTE network will reach 93 percent of customers and 88 percent of its cell sites in the early first quarter.  

Meyers also said that company's previously disclosed plans to sell 595 non-strategic cell towers to Vertical Bridge Holdings will likely result in $100 million in after-tax revenue for the company. The deal, which is expected to close in the first quarter, will leave the company with 4,000 towers. Meyers said that there is no plan to sell the remaining towers because the company believes they are "strategic assets" and the company wants full control of those towers. "As we move through technology transitions, it gives us control over towers and that has strategic value," Meyers said.

Interestingly, Meyers also said that the company is winning back customers that it lost to competitors when it didn't have the iPhone in its portfolio. "We learned that price and product are what attracts customers," he said. "We learned that when we didn't have the iPhone. We added it to our portfolio and now customers are coming back."

However, he added that network quality is crucial. Customers may switch to another operator to get a better price but if that operator doesn't have a quality network the operator will not be able to keep the customers long-term. "At the end of the day, network quality is key," he said.  

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