Leap launches first LTE network in Tucson, Ariz.

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Leap Wireless (LEAP) threw its hat into the LTE ring, announcing the commercial launch of service in the Tucson, Ariz., market. The carrier said the initial service offering covers more than 90% of its current CDMA-based footprint in that market, with further expansion to Nogales planned for 2012.

The LTE network in Tucson is using equipment from Alcatel-Lucent.

Leap noted that initial testing has returned network speeds up to 10 times faster than its current 3G network, which itself returns network speeds of up to 1 megabit per second on the downlink, though rate plans indicate actual speeds will top out at 6 Mbps for the LTE service. Rate plans for the service begin at $50 per month for 5 gigabytes of data access at speeds up to 3 Mbps, with big spenders able to access the same 5 GB of data at speeds up to 6 Mbps for $60 per month.

Leap’s current CDMA-based wireless modem plans allow for 2.5 GB of data transmission at speeds up to 1.4 Mbps for $45 per month; 5 GB of usage for $55 per month; and 7.5 GB of usage for $65 per month. Leap had initially offered unlimited data usage on its 3G network but had to institute caps that speed throttling because of the strong demand the service placed on network resources.

In support of the network Leap will initially offer the Huawei Boltz wireless modem for $150, with plans to add more modems, smartphones and eventually tablet devices in the future. The Boltz device is also backward-compatible with Leap’s CDMA-based network.

Leap recently struck a deal with Verizon Wireless to exchange some of its 1.7/2.1 GHz and 1.9 GHz spectrum holdings across 16 states for a 700 MHz license covering Chicago. Leap said the deal would help provide the capacity needed to launch LTE services in that market, which was the only market that it had previously said lacked enough spectrum to roll out service.

Leap has also signed a nationwide LTE roaming agreement with LightSquared to bolster its offering, though those plans are currently tied up with LightSquared’s attempt to secure access to use its 1.6 GHz spectrum holdings.

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Dan Meyer

Editor-in-Chief, Telecom Software, Policy, Wireless Carriers
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Dan Meyer started at RCR Wireless News in 1999 covering wireless carriers and wireless technologies. As editor-in-chief, Dan oversees editorial direction, reports on news from the wireless industry, including telecom software, policy and wireless carriers, and provides opinion stories on topics of concern to the market such as his popular Friday column “Worst of the Week.”

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