Mobilize 2010: San Francisco To Get LTE by Year’s End

Residents of San Francisco, take note: you will have the option of a 4G network by the end of the year. That is, if you make the jump to the LTE network offered by pre-paid mobile carrier MetroPCS, according to COO Tom Keys. Speaking today at GigaOM’s Mobilize conference, Keys said the carrier should be able to make the jump from 2G to 4G data capabilities in most of its markets in 2010, although there might be some stragglers that fall to next year.

MetroPCS was the first carrier to roll out a 4G network in the U.S., with last week’s launch of the nation’s first Long Term Evolution (LTE) network in Las Vegas. The carrier followed last week’s launch with another rollout of 4G capabilities in Dallas yesterday.

More markets are on their way, including San Francisco, which Keys said would have LTE by the end of the year. While the goal is to have 4G rolled out in all markets it serves by the end of 2010, some of its markets may not have the new data network until early 2011.

For MetroPCS, the LTE network upgrade was a big step up from its existing 2G network, rather than the step that all major carriers made to deploy 3G networks in the meantime. As a result, the network buildout was one way to attract new customers and retain existing users — a difficult proposition, considering that MetroPCS’ business is built on pre-paid users. “When you work in a no-contract environment, you can get voted off the island 12 times a year,” Keys said.

While MetroPCS is receiving a fair amount of interest in 4G data capabilities from new customers, Keys said the carrier saw pent-up demand from existing users. According to him, about 50 percent of all sales in Dallas yesterday were made to existing customers. That demand is coming from users who no doubt felt hamstrung by the state of MetroPCS’ 2G network, as they try to take advantage of all the same mobile Internet features as their friends on 3G networks. Keys said that about 90 percent of his company’s customers use data on their handsets.

With the new 4G offering, MetroPCS is seeing a spike in usage, but it’s still too early to say whether it will have to veer away from its current unlimited voice, texting and data plan as users take advantage of the new speed. Keys said that rather than begin capping usage by users, the carrier would most like try throttling instead.