MetroPCS Launches Las Vegas 4G LTE Network

MetroPCS Communications has activated its 4G LTE network in Las Vegas, along with a Samsung-built 4G LTE smartphone. Verizon and AT&T are currently planning 4G LTE networks in the United States.

MetroPCS Communications has activated its 4G LTE network in Las Vegas, with plans to extend coverage to the company's other cities within the next year. As part of that activation, MetroPCS is offering the Samsung Craft, which it claims is the world's first commercially available 4G LTE handset.

The Samsung Craft features a 3.3-inch AMOLED touch screen, a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, WiFi capability and a 3.2-megapixel camera with flash.

By launching its 4G LTE network, MetroPCS has effectively beaten larger carriers Verizon and AT&T to the proverbial punch. However, it is the second carrier to offer 4G after Sprint, which has already launched its own service using WiMax technology. MetroPCS built its Las Vegas 4G network in partnership with Samsung Mobile.

"More than half of our customers use their handset as their primary access to the Web," Roger Linquist, CEO of MetroPCS, is quoted as saying in a Sept. 21 Wall Street Journal article. "What we needed is a better experience."

Other carriers have been making forays into 4G, with much debate over whether to embrace WiMax or LTE as the technological backbone for their service. In an April report, analysts from research firm IDC suggested that more than 100 mobile operators around the world are supporting LTE technology, which will effectively push it past WiMax.

"The world is coalescing around the LTE standard as a result of its promise to increase speed and capacity to address the exploding growth in mobile data traffic," IDC analyst Godfrey Chua wrote in an April statement. "LTE is an important part of the portfolio of technology solutions that will enable mobile operators to cost-effectively deliver more innovative and robust data applications and services over the mobile network."

Nonetheless, some carriers have made the decision to embrace WiMax.

During his March 24 keynote address at the CTIA conference, Sprint CEO Dan Hesse suggested that a time factor lay behind his company's decision to invest in WiMax for its 4G network. "WiMax was a tried, true, tested 4G technology," he told the audience. "LTE will likely be the larger of the two 4G standards, but for us, we couldn't wait. Because of our spectrum position, we have the option to add other technologies later, but this allows us to get into the technology quickly."

Sprint is betting that its growing collection of 4G phones, including the HTC Evo 4G and Samsung Epic 4G, will give it a marketplace advantage. The carrier offers 4G capability in 27 markets, with plans to expand to Houston; Boston; Washington, D.C.; New York; and San Francisco by the end of 2010. However, that build-out represents something of a substantial bet for the company, which has invested more than $1 billion in WiMax technology despite steady customer and revenue erosion over the past few quarters.

Verizon plans to launch its own 4G LTE service in 30 U.S. cities by the end of 2010, with the rest of the nation apparently to follow by 2013. However, the carrier remains tight-lipped about the specific cities targeted in the initial rollout. Once activated, Verizon's 4G network will supposedly accommodate download speeds of 5M bps to 12M bps with upload speeds of 2M bps to 5M bps, and latency of 30 to 150 milliseconds. Those numbers are comparable to those posted by Sprint for its own WiMax 4G network.