MetroPCS Rolls the Dice with LTE in Vegas

MetroPCS Communications Inc. has officially leapfrogged, well, everyone, launching 4G LTE service in Las Vegas this week, complete with a shiny new handset from Samsung the first LTE handset ever officially released in the wild.

Thats right, Verizon Wireless, were looking at you.

The Internet is going mobile, and we are placing the true power of the Internet directly in our customers hands, when and where they need it,” said Roger Linquist, president, CEO and chairman of MetroPCS, in a statement. We are delivering a 4G LTE service that is unmatched in value and positions MetroPCS as a full-service broadband wireless provider a giant step for our business.”

Its a giant step for the competitive landscape as well. MetroPCS not only has the competition beat from a time-to-market perspective (Verizon is launching later this year and AT&T not until mid-2011), but the inclusion of a handset, and not just laptop dongles, as part of the package takes the business model from the start into the realm industry-watchers agree it needs to go. Beyond simply offering faster mobile Web access, 4G is supposed to allow carriers to craft radically new business models and service packages. And handsets and other gadgets are key to that. And luckily for MetroPCS, Sprint-Nextel Corp.s impressive HTC Evo WiMAX handset is the only other horse in the race thus far.

While we knew about the launch plans and the handset (both were announced at a Samsung event last spring at CTIA), the service packages were not revealed at the time. Now, it turns out that MetroPCS is continuing the cut-rate, cheap and cheerful model it arguably pioneered, offering flat-rate talk, text and data access for either $55 or $60 per month, including taxes and regulatory fees, all without a contract. Initially in Vegas only, MetroPCS expects to roll out service to all of its markets by the end of the year.  

Meanwhile, the Samsung Craft, available now in Las Vegas metropolitan area stores and online for $299, after a $50 instant rebate, is anything but cut-rate. The dual-mode 4G LTE/CDMA handset was created with Web and multimedia content in mind, with a 3.3 inch AMOLED screen and a MicroSD card pre-loaded with Paramount Pictures Star Trek.” A combination touch screen, slide-out QWERTY keyboard and Samsungs TouchWiz user interface to surf and text message with whichever input format users prefer. It also has a 3.2 megapixel camera with flash and camcorder and Wi-Fi.

Applications are obviously a giant piece of the 4G puzzle, so MetroPCS has launched a few proprietary ones to go with the new network. MetroSTUDIO, available on the $60 service plan, acts as a source of multimedia content, including access to full-track downloads, ringtones and ring-back tones, as well as premium video content from NBC Universal, Black Entertainment Television (BET) and Univision. Theres also a new social networking and instant messaging aggregation application, which harnesses notifications, friends and content from the Facebook, MySpace and Twitter social networks and AIM, MSN and Yahoo! IM clients into a single interface, and an upgraded MetroNavigator feature adds voice-activated GPS and turn-by-turn directions.

Its unclear whether Samsung, which is building its own applications market, will leverage the Craft for its ecosystem, but more devices and form factors are in the pike, so that very well might be the case.

We continue to see our customers use mobile data services, and the majority of them rely on their handset as their primary access to the Web,” said Tom Keys, chief operating officer of MetroPCS. Our 4G service, the Samsung Craft and applications like MetroSTUDIO deliver exactly what our customers demand: more of the entertainment they love, a desktop-like Web experience and the ability to do more and share more of their content such as text, photos and videos with friends and family.”

VON/xchange will soon have a Q&A posted with Ed Chao, senior vice president of corporate engineering and network operations at MetroPCS, so watch this space for more details.

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