MetroPCS beats Verizon to LTE punch

Carrier launches no-contract LTE services in Las Vegas

MetroPCS became the first wireless carrier in the United States to offer 4G LTE services Tuesday with an official commercial launch in Las Vegas.

MetroPCS is offering a no-contract LTE plan for customers starting at $55 a month. The LTE launch coincides with the release of Samsung’s Craft handset, which will be the first LTE-capable phone offered in the U.S. The Federal Communications Commission first approved the Craft for use in the United States this past summer on spectrum bands owned by MetroPCS. From a specifications perspective, the Craft has a slide-out QWERTY keyboard and a 3.3-inch touchscreen display, as well as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and 3G EV-DO Rev. A connectivity. Samsung is selling the device for $299 with no contract.

4G Essentials

MetroPCS says that it will continue launching LTE services in various cities around the country throughout both this year and 2011. The carrier will be offering a multimedia content delivery application called MetroSTUDIO over its 4G network that will offer premium video content from NBC Universal, Black Entertainment Television and Univision.

4G technologies such as LTE and WiMAX represent the next stage in the evolution of wireless data technologies and generally deliver average download rates of 3Mbps or higher. In contrast, today's 3G networks typically deliver average download speeds about one-tenth of that rate. Among the major carriers, Verizon will be the first to offer LTE services, as it will have its LTE network up and running in as many as 30 major markets with many more to come in 2011.

By the end of 2013, Verizon plans to have its entire current 3G footprint covered by its 4G technology and to also expand its 4G services into areas that don't currently have 3G. The carrier will primarily be using the 22MHz chunk of spectrum it obtained during the 700MHz auction in 2008 to build out its LTE network nationwide.

AT&T and T-Mobile are planning to follow Verizon with commercial LTE launches of their own in 2011. Sprint is the only major U.S. wireless carrier to utilize WiMAX and it is currently on track to have its WiMAX services up and running in all major U.S. markets by year-end.

MetroPCS is a relatively small carrier from a national perspective, as its roughly 8 million subscribers are dwarfed by both Verizon and AT&T, which each boast in excess of 90 million subscribers nationwide. The carrier specializes in prepaid wireless voice and data services that offer users less costly alternatives to contract-based postpaid services.

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