by FierceWireless' Sue Marek :
Tier 2 carrier U.S. Cellular is accelerating its plans to deploy LTE. The company, which had originally planned to deploy the next-generation technology in 2012, announced it will deploy LTE in 24 markets by November, covering approximately 25 percent to 30 percent of its total subscriber base. The company will outfit around 1,250 cell sites with LTE using its 700 MHz spectrum.
U.S. Cellular also said it will launch a full suite of LTE devices when it launches its LTE network.
Company CEO Mary Dillon said the data demands of the company's subscribers precipitated the carrier's decision to speed up its LTE deployment plans. She said smartphones represented 42 percent of all devices U.S. Cellular sold during the first quarter.
As for U.S. Cellular's first quarter earnings, the company reported service revenues of $985.1 million, an increase of 2.1 percent over the first quarter of 2010. However, it also reported a net loss of 31,000 retail customers, which is the same it experienced in the previous quarter. U.S. Cellular's total subscriber base is now 6.03 million, down from the 6.14 million it reported in the same quarter a year ago.
Dillon noted that the company's Belief Project continues to attract customers; U.S. Cellular counted 1.8 million new and existing customers on its Belief Plans at the end of the first quarter. She also said the company debuted a new advertising campaign she said will increase awareness of U.S. Cellular's network, phones and rate plans. The company plans to launch eight new smartphones over the next two quarters, including some lower priced devices, in hopes of attracting more customers.
Here's a breakdown of U.S. Cellular's key metrics for the quarter:
Subscribers: U.S. Cellular reported a net loss of 22,000 postpaid subscribers and a net loss of 9,000 prepaid subscribers. The carrier's retail gross adds were 256,000--down from its retail gross adds of 305,000 in the same quarter last year.
Churn: The carrier's postpaid churn was 1.37 percent, an improvement from the 1.41 percent it reported in the same quarter of 2010.
ARPU: U.S. Cellular's average revenue per user was $51.21, an increase from $50.70 in the first quarter of 2010.
The initial rollout of 4G LTE service for U.S. Cellular, which has the highest call quality and network satisfaction of any national carrier, is planned for selected cities in Iowa, Wisconsin, Maine, North Carolina, Texas and Oklahoma. These include some of U.S. Cellular's leading markets such as Milwaukee, Madison and Racine, Wis.; Des Moines, Cedar Rapids and Davenport, Iowa; Portland and Bangor, Maine; and Greenville, N.C.
"With 4G LTE, our customers will have faster connections to the people, information and entertainment that enhance their lives and help them stay organized," said Mary N. Dillon, president and CEO of U.S. Cellular.
"In addition to our line-up of cutting-edge devices, customers who switch to U.S. Cellular get unique benefits like faster phone upgrades without continuously signing contracts, and join the happiest customers in wireless."
U.S. Cellular plans to introduce a portfolio of 4G-enabled devices during the first phase of its 4G LTE deployment and will continue to expand its offering through 2012. The rollout builds on the 3G data services that U.S. Cellular customers already enjoy on the carrier's high-quality nationwide network. More details on the next phases of the company's 4G LTE deployment will be announced at a later date.