With 4G services just launched in Las Vegas, a small prepaid wireless provider named MetroPCS has beaten Verizon Wireless and AT&T out the door as the first U.S. carrier to offer a 4G alternative to Sprint and Clearwire’s WiMAX.
MetroPCS is selling LTE service plans for $55 and $60, depending on features. The carrier is selling a 4G handset, the Samsung Craft, for $300 after a $50 rebate.
AT&T had originally targeted an initial launch of its own LTE network at 2010, but recently announced a decision to push back deployment until mid-2011, putting it behind rival Verizon in 4G deployment plans.
Sprint is ahead of all its rivals, and has been offering a 4G network based on the WiMAX standard.
More Interested in LTE for Capacity than Speed
Although MetroPCS is first to the party, its LTE service is much slower than speeds expected on Verizon’s network, say some observers.
MetroPCS is using merely 5 megahertz of spectrum on the AWS spectrum band. In comparison, Verizon will use 20 megahertz of spectrum on the 700 MHz band.
MetroPCS officials have acknowledged that LTE appeals to the company less from the standpoint of speed than network capacity.
The carrier wants to become more competitive in its ability to offer applications such as social networking, e-mail and video, according to Ed Chao, senior VP of corporate engineering and network architectures.
How Does MetroPCS’s 4G Plan Stack Up?
In cities already deploying its WiMAX services, Sprint currently offers monthly $50 and $60 service plans. Sprint sells two WiMAX-enabled smartphones, the HTC Evo 4G and Samsung Epic 4G. Sprint last week announced plans to expand its WiMAX service to New York City by the end of 2010.
A few weeks ago, Clearwire announced a prepaid WiMAX service called Rover, available with service plans costing $5 a day, $20 a week, or $50 a month. To take part in the prepaid plans, though, users must purchase either the Stick, a USB modem priced at $100, or a Puck, a $150 portable hot spot supporting up to eight Wi-Fi-connected devices.
Offering daily and weekly prepaid service plans as alternatives might make sense for MetroPCS, too, especially in cities such as Las Vegas which attract huge numbers of vacationers, convention-goers, and other short-term visitors.