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CTIA: As AWS roll out, vendors start pumping out phones

Leap and MetroPCS launches prompt Nokia, ZTE to release new phones

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There isn’t exactly a glut of Advanced Wireless Services phones on the market, but there isn’t a dearth either. As the first AWS networks went live in the last few weeks, handset makers at CTIA Wireless debuted new devices embedded with the new radio chips, trying to avoid the time gap between networks and handsets common to a new technology launch.

Leap Wireless launched will launch its first AWS market in Oklahoma City on Tuesday with three handsets—two from Samsung and one from UTStarcom and an UTStarcom EV-DO card. MetroPCS technically beat Leap to the punch, turning on its first network, Las Vegas, late last month with the same two Samsung handsets. Metro’s launch, though, was a much more limited one with sales limited to its online portal while it builds up retail channels. Leap launched said its Cricket service will be sold through 58 partners as well as five retail stores starting next week.

That’s only three handsets between three carriers, but it looks like both operators will have plenty to choose from. Nokia is targeting AWS as an entry point back into the CDMA market place. It unveiled the second and third of its current line of CDMA devices, the Nokia 3606 and Nokia 1606, both basic phones supporting the AWS and PCS bands. Kyocera added a trio of phones, the Mako S4000, Neo E1100 and the Adreno S2400. UTStarcom added a second phone to its line up, the CDM7176 Bluetooth-enabled camera phone.

ZTE chipped in two models, the C78 and C79 music phones—just its second and third phones for the U.S. market after it debuted the C88 in January. While the other handset makers building to AWS are fairly entrenched in the U.S., ZTE is targeting the Tier II operators to gain its North American foothold. Metro is already selling the C88 as well as the phones of fellow Chinese new entrant Huawei, but ZTE has also secured a contract with Metro to sell phones ZTE makes for the AWS band. Though ZTE would not say if Metro specifically would sell the two models it unveiled at CTIA, project management director Drew Wilken said the vendor planned to make its mark by designing feature-rich phones specifically for the Tier II market.

“We are focused on the middle tier, but we are not just here to provide low-cost, low-feature handsets,” Wilken said. “Tier two customers want a customized experience too.”

Leap officials would not identify specific devices it planned to carry or specific vendors it planned to work with, but they said Leap planned to have to have a diverse assortment soon. In fact, Leap plans its entire portfolio of handsets in all markets with AWS dual-band phones in the next 12-18 months, said T. Scott Edwards, senior vice president of marketing for Cricket Communications, Leap’s consumer facing brand.

So far the transition to AWS hasn’t been too complicated, Edwards said. Introducing new handsets specifically for a new a market was tricky, but Leap was surprised to discover it wasn’t as expensive as it believed it would be, Edwards said. “There is a modest increase in the cost of the chip,” Edwards said, referring to the 1.7 GHz and 2.1 GHz radios required for AWS. “But we weren’t as blown away by the cost as we thought we would. We’ll be able to distribute that cost pretty easily as we ramp up.”

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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