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MetroPCS LTE Revamp Set for 2012

Sarah Thomas

CHICAGO -- 4G World 2011 -- Long Term Evolution (LTE) has gotten off to a rocky start for first mover MetroPCS Inc. (NYSE: PCS), but the regional carrier expects all that to change by mid-2012. At that time, its network deployment will be complete, handset prices will fall significantly and its marketing will get a makeover.

These are the promises that MetroPCS COO Tom Keys made during a 4G World keynote on Tuesday. Keys touted the flat-rate operator's milestones as the first to launch LTE, as well as offer the first LTE handset in the U.S. and first Android-based LTE device in the world. But, he admitted, MetroPCS still has lots of work to do. (See Leap's 3G Trumps Metro's 4G/2G Mashup.)

"We realized that when we launched our services, the handsets didn’t have a large processor; the network was robust but didn't have the backhaul," Keys said. "The experience was OK. We know we have more to do."

To stay relevant as its larger competitors deploy LTE, Keys said cheaper handsets are table stakes and that pricing has to get to the $100 unit range by mid-2012. At that point, he said, MetroPCS's network will be fully deployed with a Heterogeneous Network (HetNet) of small cells to support it, as well as improved backhaul.

"By 2012, we'll be able to transfer customers from 1x CDMA to LTE," Keys said. "We'll be able to find new customers."

Part of that will include new marketing with a focus on the family plan and local markets, since Keys said much of its customer acquisition comes from word of mouth. MetroPCS will launch a new campaign in the beginning of next year, but by mid-2012 will completely revamp to focus on the virtues of the network, quality and handset pricing.

"We need to change how the campaign looks -- make it more inclusive, show the value and why it's okay to not have a contract," he said. "And show MetroPCS is not for one segment, but it's LTE for all."

MetroPCS is going after an increasingly large group of consumers that don't have a choice when it comes to mobility. They still want high-end capabilities, but value is their most important consideration, Keys said. It is adding features like Metro Studio, its TV service, on low-cost handsets to appeal to both groups. It's also planning to implement voice over LTE in future handsets, but Keys admitted the carrier will need more spectrum. (See MetroPCS Explores Spectrum Options and MetroPCS Seeks 'LTE for All' Spectrum.)

"Since our LTE launch, we realized we're not there yet," Keys admitted. "The next step is LTE for all."

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

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