MetroPCS Balks at Wholesale LTE

MetroPCS Inc. (NYSE: PCS) has nearly $1.5 billion to spend on spectrum to grow its Long Term Evolution (LTE) network, but it's only looking to partners to grow into markets outside of its present footprint.

The regional carrier has said many times in the past that it's exploring all options for spectrum acquisition, but Keith Terreri, MetroPCS's VP of finance and treasure, shed some more light on what those options are at a Barclays Capital conference Tuesday.

"In our markets we prefer to own the spectrum so we can control the customer experience," Terreri said. "Outside of our markets, we'll need partners, particularly for 4G."

Wholesaler Clearwire LLC (Nasdaq: CLWR), which just linked a deal with Cricket Communications Inc. , is one of the most obvious partners for MetroPCS. Terreri said it wouldn't use its 2.5GHz spectrum of Clearwire's future Long Term Evolution Time Division Duplex (LTE TDD) network to launch a new market with, but it'd consider it as a hot-spot overlay. Clearwire has done a great job moving that ecosystem along, he conceded. (See Cricket Taps Clearwire for LTE.)

"That's one of the opportunities we're looking at," Terreri said. "We're talking to anyone with spectrum. We've got a bit of a war chest built up."

That also includes exploring what Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) spectrum may be divested and "immediately usable" from Verizon Wireless 's deal with the SpectrumCo cable companies, as well as "seeing what opportunities arise" from Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH). (See Verizon & Comcast Deny a TV Truce and FCC Keeps Dish Spectrum Plan Alive .)

LTE accolades
The regional carrier has just passed the 500,000-subscriber mark on LTE, and Terreri pointed out that it did so with handsets in the $250 range. It's still working to lower the price of the LTE smartphones it sells. He said to expect a $150 LTE smartphone in the second half of the year and a $99 one by the holidays, but expressed worry that the LTE TDD handset ecosystem wouldn't provide it adequate choices if it goes that route. (See MetroPCS Blames 4G Voice Wait on Qualcomm, MetroPCS Plots LTE Smartphones, VoLTE Trials and MetroPCS: $100 LTE Smartphones in 2012?)

Terreri added that most of its subscribers sign up for either a $50 data plan, capped at 1 GB, or an unlimited $60 data plan. Those that use the $50 plan hit the cap pretty regularly, he said. (Ed. Note. However, MetroPCS Product Manager Stephen Jemente told LR Mobile the opposite was true just last week.) And, Terreri said, those that use unlimited data tend to eat up 2 to 2.5 GB per month. (See MetroPCS Gives Video the 4G Treatment.)

MetroPCS is evaluating adding another LTE plan to its offering, including potentially a higher price tier with more data. Terreri also acknowledged that networks speeds, which use 5x5 channels instead of 10x10 like its larger competitors, will run slower than most. (See 4G: Cricket's Tiny Channels.)

"Obviously it won't be as fast as [Verizon's 10x10]," he said. "But from 1X RTT to LTE, it's a significant enhancement."

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

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