MetroPCS to Launch LTE Network, New Phones in Late 2010

[qi:gigaom_icon_lte] MetroPCS (s PCS), the prepaid phone company, said today that it will launch its fourth-generation Long Term Evolution network in its major metropolitan markets in late 2010. The carrier will upgrade its current CDMA network with LTE gear from Ericsson (s ericy), and its first phone capable of taking advantage of the faster LTE speeds will be a Samsung smartphone, according to a company release. Another milestone is that MetroPCS says it will offer its dual-mode LTE/CDMA smartphone in late 2010, a product that Verizon (s vz) doesn’t plan to offer until 2011. This means that in the U.S., MetroPCS may have the first dual-mode LTE smartphone — if it can find the silicon radios to let those phones talk to both CDMA and LTE networks.

The network launch matches the LTE deployment time frame I learned of in March after a conversation with Tom Keys, MetroPCS’s COO, when he brought up the hope of a late 2010 launch. At the time, he said, “We think the move into 4G gives us two things. We get capacity, and we get speed. By not stopping or moving to an EVDO Rev A or Rev B and going directly to LTE, we take advantage of our relationships with providers. We were the first to launch an AWS handset in the U.S., so we think our relationships will lead us to LTE rapidly.”

It may not overtake Verizon’s deployment, which has already begun with testing in Boston and Seattle, but it will certainly beat out AT&T (s T), which has said it plans to begin testing LTE in 2011 2010 with a launch in 2012 2011.