LTE leap suits a small carrier, MetroPCS chief says

Moving early to 4G helped MetroPCS grab vendors' attention, according to COO Thomas Keys

MetroPCS, with a customer base of just 7.6 million, doesn't seem the most likely mobile operator to launch the first commercial LTE networks in the U.S., but its small size actually was one of the reasons the carrier jumped on the new technology, MetroPCS Chief Operating Officer Thomas Keys said Thursday.

LTE is expected to become the most widely deployed 4G (fourth-generation) mobile network technology in the world over the next several years. Verizon Wireless, which dwarfs MetroPCS with more than 92 million subscribers, plans to offer LTE in 25 to 30 markets nationwide by the end of this year. But MetroPCS was first out of the gate, launching service on the next-generation technology last week in Las Vegas and on Wednesday in Dallas. It is offering the high-speed service for a flat monthly charge of US$55, with no contract.

MetroPCS made the decision to move to LTE about 24 months ago, Keys said in an interview on the sidelines of the Mobilize conference in San Francisco. Partly, the carrier wanted to make sure it could get the attention of infrastructure and device vendors before more established mobile operators stole the stage.

"We wanted to make sure the ecosystem would come our way," Keys said. Unlike Verizon, which is using large blocks of spectrum in the 700MHz band to cover its metropolitan markets, MetroPCS is using relatively small channels in different spectrum bands. In most markets, each of the paired bands it uses will be just 5MHz, 3MHz or 1.4MHz wide.

Competing with the top U.S. carriers is a "David and Goliath" experience for MetroPCS, Keys said. The small carrier's network, subscribers and plans all set it apart from the established leaders. It targets consumers who are looking for value and no contracts. 68 per cent of them walk into MetroPCS stores each month and pay cash for their service, Keys said. In January, it introduced new rate plans that include all taxes and fees within a flat monthly charge. MetroPCS calls its plans "pay in advance," because subscribers pay for service one month at a time.

MetroPCS also skipped 3G, so except for its emerging LTE footprint, its entire network is based on CDMA2000-1xRTT, the early Code Division Multiple Access mobile data network that typically delivers speeds well below 200K bps (bits per second). This also gave a sense of urgency to its LTE plans.

"90 per cent of our customers utilize data, and 50 per cent of those use our phone as their only connection to the Internet," Keys said. Those customers were starting to demand video, which required a faster infrastructure. Keys declined to quote a speed for the LTE service, other than saying it should probably be three to four times as fast as its CDMA network. Verizon has said test results have shown speeds of 5M bps to 12M bps on its LTE network.

MetroPCS has lined up at least two network suppliers -- Samsung and Ericsson -- and already has an LTE handset in the market from Samsung, the Craft. Keys did not share sales figures for the Craft, which doesn't run a smartphone OS, but he said that so far about 50 per cent of buyers have been MetroPCS customers who upgraded. The Craft costs $349, with a $50 rebate.

The carrier expects to introduce an Android device next year. But unlike other budding 4G providers, which have emphasized use of the fast network on laptops, netbooks and USB data cards, MetroPCS is focused on "the small-screen experience," Keys said. "We do not have a road map today to support dongles or cards," he said. After the market for such services has settled out at other providers, MetroPCS may consider releasing tablets or other larger devices, he said.

To satisfy user demands for multimedia, MetroPCS has introduced MetroStudio, a content offering that allows for access to multimedia, ringtones and streaming video for a flat monthly fee. The LTE plans currently include unlimited monthly data. MetroPCS will re-examine this approach as consumption grows, but it would prefer to use rate throttling rather than monthly caps, Keys said.

Keys believes the direction of the economy is helping to drive some consumers toward "pay-in-advance" plans.

"We see the economy as not quite back yet," Keys said during an on-stage conversation on Thursday at Mobilize.

MetroPCS expects to offer LTE across its whole current network footprint, which now covers 96 million U.S. residents, by the end of next year. He said the service should be available in San Francisco by the end of this year.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags telecommunicationconsumer electronicsNetworkingwirelessPhonesmobilenetwork infrastructureMetroPCS CommunicationsMobile handsets

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?