San Diego-based Leap Wireless International, which offers pre-paid mobile wireless services through its wholly owned Cricket Communications subsidiary, has confirmed plans to launch a trial Long Term Evolution (LTE) network in Tucson, Arizona before the end of 2011, before embarking on the rollout of 4G services to around 25 million people by December 2012. According to Fierce Wireless, the carrier said that it expects to spend around USD250 million on the first phase, and plans to upgrade two-thirds of its existing CDMA network with LTE technology within the next two to three years. Further, Leap CEO Doug Hutcheson has indicated that the firm expects to offer LTE smartphones by mid-to-late 2012. He also said that Leap currently owns enough spectrum – 23MHz in most of its markets – to offer LTE without any additional bandwidth. That said, the company will still look to acquire additional spectrum if the opportunity presents itself. Previously, as reported by TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, in March 2011 Leap signed a long-term 4G roaming agreement with LightSquared, the USD7 billion LTE open-access mobile network that will utilise satellite spectrum acquired by New York investment firm Harbinger Capital.
In related news, NetAmerica Alliance – which emerged earlier this year with a view to giving rural operators the economies of scale needed to roll out LTE technology – has announced the launch of its first LTE pilot network in an as yet unnamed location. NetAmerica members are using the pilot network to develop, test and refine operating methodologies prior to unveiling commercial services. The trial supported transmission speeds of 28Mbps and 13Mbps (down/uplink). Roger Hutton, chairman and CEO of the NetAmerica Alliance, commented: ‘NetAmerica is solidly executing on the game plan it laid out prior to officially launching the alliance earlier this year. The pilot network is providing members with the processes, procedures, and experience necessary to scale offerings in a commercial service. While other carriers are talking about what they are going to do for rural customers, NetAmerica members are taking actions in a measured but aggressive manner to make 4G LTE service a reality’.