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Being the 'David' to Verizon's LTE goliath: MetroPCS

Thu, 03/24/2011 - 8:00am
Maisie Ramsay, Wireless Week

ORLANDO – MetroPCS Communications doesn't make a lot of the fact that it, not Verizon Wireless, was the first to deploy LTE.

MetroPCS launched its LTE network in Las Vegas in September, nearly three months before Verizon turned on its LTE network in December.

But instead of crowing over their time-to-market win, MetroPCS focused much of its marketing energy on the technology itself. The deployment of LTE marked an evolutionary leap forward for the company, whose wireless deployments largely consisted of 2G technologies.

MetroPCS' modesty made the launch look easy. It wasn't. It's no simple feat for a company with just 8.1 million subscribers – less than one-tenth of Verizon's customer base – to bring a brand-new technology to market.

"It was a risk for people to jump into this brand-new technology before somebody of a greater size did," said MetroPCS COO Tom Keys during an interview at CTIA Wireless.

MetroPCS began going after vendors three years ago, well before the first large-scale LTE deployments went live. The company faced a difficult task of securing vendors because its LTE network was being deployed on a smaller scale and it used a different spectrum band than most other LTE networks in the United States.

In fact, MetroPCS was told by some companies that it wouldn't be able to get handsets for its network until 2012 or 2013. It proved them wrong.

The company has launched LTE services in 12 markets and plans to launch its final market as soon as the government clears the frequencies needed to run the network. MetroPCS also has two LTE handsets – the Brew-based Samsung Craft and the Android-based Samsung Galaxy Indulge.

Keys says MetroPCS was "respectfully persistent" as it worked to convince equipment vendors and device manufacturers to produce the gear for its LTE network, which runs on the company's AWS spectrum holdings in the 1710-1755 MHz and 2110-2155 MHz bands.

Fortunately, MetroPCS was resting on solid financials when it decided to make its LTE push. "The fact that we have an extremely sturdy balance sheet helped people understand that when the invoice came, we could pay for it," Keys says. "It takes away some of the burden from people if they want to take a risk on us."

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