Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Leap LTE - Burning the Candle at All Bands

Leap (Cricket) is comparatively a slow mover in LTE deployment. Its first market began as a test market in December 2011 in Tucson, AZ. Just today, Leap launched its second market, Las Vegas. 

The commonality between the two announcements have been the only release device being the Huawei Boltz USB modem at $149.99 or as my analyst brethren (rounds down) say $149.  Though many carriers have traditionally launched with modems first, carriers have traditionally taken a lot of heat over the lack of other devices (yes, smartphones) at launch.  Leap follows continues the trend with more smartphones in the pipeline.   

Service Innovation Unrecognized

For those who follow Leap, it's perplexing why they are emphasizing mobile broadband plans as they have been de-emphasizing their 3G mobile broadband plans. Leap has been bleeding 3G mobile broadband customers for many quarters. Perhaps some of it was planned as those customers had no data caps and pounding the 3G network for relatively inexpensive price points.  Perhaps the new LTE data plans stand to be more profitable.

$50 Plan - 5 GB @ 3 Mbps
$60 Plan - 5 GB @ 6 Mbps

The company doesn't get credit for its speed-dependent rates.  This model follows the fixed line internet model where one pays more for faster throughput.  Back to the modem which may appear archaic in today's WiFi hotspots like the (also Huawei) Crosswave.
It's likely that Leap wants to control the data consumption to protect the network and customers alike.  

Lots of Future LTE bands  

Here is where Leap seems to be schizophrenic with its LTE strategy and burning the candle at all bands, making things complex.  These latest markets have been launched using AWS bands.  Earlier, Leap signed on with Clearwire in March 2012.  Yet there is another band in the mix - 700 MHz A Block (Chicago only).  This came about with the swap with Verizon Wireless approved in August.  So let's recap what Leap will need to support in the coming years:

  • 700 MHz LTE (Chicago-only, what's that all about?)
  • 2.5 GHz TD-LTE 

It's safe to say that multi-band support is giving device makers challenges but on top of this, it's safe to inject other LTE roaming band support into the mix. Still, the carrier has promised 21 million POPs covered by the end of the year. Network engineers and installation people must be frantically working.