CTIA: MetroPCS taps Samsung as second LTE vendor
Samsung will build Metro’s Las Vegas network; Clearwire to make use of small LTE channels in many markets.
The small yet exclusive fraternity of long-term evolution contract winners welcomed Samsung to their ranks today, as MetroPCS (NYSE:PCS) tapped the Korean vendor to be its second 4G radio access network vendor. In addition to supplying Metro’s first handsets, Samsung will build the operator’s LTE network in Las Vegas, supplying both radio and core gear.
Samsung has already made its mark in 4G in the smaller WiMax market, building networks for the world’s biggest competitive mobile broadband providers, among them Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR), Russia’s Yota and Japan’s UQ Communication. Like other WiMax vendors, Samsung has sought to turn its 4G expertise in WiMax into an advantage in the larger LTE market, which so far has been dominated by the big Tier I vendors Ericsson (NYSE:ERIC), Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE:ALU) and Huawei. Though Metro’s deployment will be small compared to those of Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ, NYSE:VOD) and AT&T (NYSE:T), it will have the distinction of being one of the first commercial LTE launches in the world. Metro plans to launch in the latter half of 2010 around the same time as Verizon.
MetroPCS didn’t provide any additional details as to which markets Samsung will build by Las Vegas as opposed to those deployed by its initial vendor Ericsson. At a media briefing at CTIA Wireless today, Metro executives said they would provide additional details of its rollout schedule and initial device lineup later this year as its launch date closes in.
Metro, however, did provide some look into how the network would be structured. Metro won’t be launching LTE over 700 MHz, as it only has a single license covering the Boston area. Rather it will deploy over its advanced wireless service (AWS) spectrum co-locating it with its CDMA network. As a result, Metro will deploy variable LTE channel sizes in different markets depending on how much spectrum it has available, said MetroPCS chief operating officer Tom Keys. While most operators are targeting 5 MHz channels or larger, Keys said in some markets or sites Metro will have a single 1.4 MHz channel, essentially replacing a CDMA 1X carrier. In areas where Metro has more free spectrum, it will double or triple LTE capacity, supporting a mixture of 3 MHz and 5 MHz channels.
Samsung estimated that a 1.4 MHz channel could support average download speeds around 3 Mb/s, significantly less than the 5-12 Mb/s VZW is currently clocking on its LTE trial networks. But Metro may not need excessive amounts of bandwidth for its business model. Unlike the other 4G operators, Metro currently has no 3G network, relying on 1X narrowband connectivity for its smartphone and feature phone data needs.
Instead of pursuing an aggressive mobile broadband laptop card strategy, MetroPCS has indicated it plans to focus LTE heavily on smartphones, which don’t need the raw capacity of PC applications. At 3 Mb/s, narrow LTE channels will support more than triple the capacity of the typical 1X EV-DO channel. Keys added that Metro is working with eight vendors, including Samsung, to provide dual-mode handsets for its network.
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