MetroPCS CEO Roger Linquist said today that the prepaid provider has nearly 1 million LTE customers, a number that places one out of every nine customers on its mobile broadband network.
"We're approaching 1 million on the LTE network," Linquist said at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference in New York.
About 8 million of the company's customers still use CDMA phones, with the remainder using LTE devices, he said. MetroPCS had 9.3 million customers at the end of the second quarter.
Migrating customers to LTE is a top priority for the spectrum-strapped provider. Once it gets enough customers off of its legacy CDMA network, it can reuse the airwaves for its more efficient LTE service.
MetroPCS has added lower-priced LTE smartphones to its device lineup to encourage customers to switch over. Half of the six LTE smartphone MetroPCS expects to launch in the coming weeks will cost $149 or less, Linquist said.
The operator also launched its first voice over LTE (VoLTE) phone in the Dallas/Fort Worth market six weeks ago. VoLTE is a key step toward a complete migration to LTE, as it moves voice traffic off CDMA networks, freeing up spectrum used to support less efficient legacy networks.
Linquist said it will take four to six months before MetroPCS makes VoLTE available across its remaining 13 LTE markets. Specific launch dates have not been announced.
"This is a different animal," he said, citing the technical complexity of the upgrade. "It does take more time, and we want to make sure we have a good experience."
VoLTE customers in Dallas report improvements in voice quality compared to CDMA, he said. MetroPCS offers LTE service across its 14-market footprint in Atlanta, Boston, Dallas/Fort Worth, Detroit, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Sacramento, Orlando, Jacksonville and Tampa.
MetroPCS' spectrum position is considerably smaller than its competitors, limiting the speeds of its LTE network. Even so, Linquist said technological advancements have "changed dramatically the urgency" of getting new spectrum. "There are opportunities, but we have not availed ourselves of those opportunities right now," he said.
Instead, the company is focused on "big pipe backhaul" and is looking to new non-line-of-sight microwave backhaul service for small cell deployments. "You cannot implement small cell technology without microwave," Linquist said. "It is senseless to think you're going to pull fiber to all the small cell sites."