Amid rumors that Leap Wireless might merge with fellow regional carrier and roaming partner MetroPCS, the wireless operator on Tuesday launched service in Philadelphia – one of the few markets where it overlaps with MetroPCS.
Leap and MetroPCS are both slowly building out what seem to be complementary footprints to cover more and more of the major U.S. markets, giving the operators a chance to make the most of their roaming agreement and fueling speculation that the two will combine to form a national wireless competitor. For instance, last month Leap launched Cricket in Chicago, and MetroPCS recently turned up Boston and New York City. But Leap’s Philly launch puts it in competition with MetroPCS. Hmm.
Leap’s foray into the land of cheese steak will include service to metro Philadelphia, parts of New Jersey and Wilmington, Del.. Supporting the launch are 20 retail stores and 365 independent retailers.
Whether competitors or compatriots, Tier 1 operators should take note of Leap and Metro PCS’ growing size and clout, flat-rate and budget-conscious though they may be. And the future could get messier: Both Leap and MetroPCS operate in the PCS and AWS spectrum, with the latter band being appropriate for 4G services. For its part, MetroPCS said last fall it would go with LTE as its next-generation choice – something it reaffirmed this week when COO Tom Keys told GigaOM that it would probably roll out LTE in the latter half of 2010. But Leap has yet to announce any 4G plans, though its 3G rollout is future-proofed with the ability to easily upgrade to WiMAX or LTE.