MetroPCS (NYSE: PCS ) is preparing to travel in a faster crowd. Although it has less than one-tenth the number of subscribers than either AT&T (NYSE: T ) or Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) , it is moving deftly into their 4G LTE world. And it is doing so without the missteps that have caused at least one other more-established wireless carrier to keep making headlines (and not in a good way).
CEO Linquist speaks
MetroPCS Chairman and CEO Roger Linquist told FierceWireless editor Sue Marek that the decision to go directly to 4G LTE technology while bypassing 3G was a difficult one, but "[We] knew that 4G was going to be right on the heels of 3G."
MetroPCS is a strictly month-to-month wireless company and does not give long-term phone contracts that would enable it to offer lower-priced subsidized smartphones. Right now unsubsidized LTE handsets go for between $250 and $450. "That price takes us out of our sweet spot, which is $100 to $150," Linquist told Marek.
But he said the company is working with handset and chipset makers to bring the costs down, an outcome not that far off: "We see the light at the end of the tunnel. We see the second half of 2012 being the initial payoff phase."
It may be for the best that MetroPCS does not yet have that mass-market LTE handset, as it has been suggested that the company does not yet have the capacity to handle a large influx of LTE customers. However, according to Linquist, "We have 4 million to 5 million [subscribers] we can still get on the LTE network."
It's a long shot, but as a further fount of wireless resources, it was reported that MetroPCS is the leading candidate for some of the spectrum and subscribers that AT&T and T-Mobile USA may have to jettison to persuade the government to approve their merger. Competitors for those assets include Leap Wireless International (Nasdaq: LEAP ) and DISH Network (Nasdaq: DISH ) .
What about WiMAX?
When asked about teaming up with one of the network wholesalers for additional 4G resources, Linquist wasn't too optimistic about LightSquared's chances of getting past its difficulties any time soon. As for Clearwire (Nasdaq: CLWR ) , he said a shift to LTE-TD could work for it, "But certainly not with WiMAX. No one is touching WiMAX, that's as toxic as it gets."
I'm impressed enough with MetroPCS' strategy and with the candor of its CEO that I'm going to give it a thumbs up on CAPS. I'm also going to put it on My Watchlist. You can do the same by clicking here.