Why MetroPCS doesn't carry the iPhone... yet

Technology has been the primary barrier, but the company is open to carrying the next version of Apple's smartphone.

The iPhone 4S isn't going to be showing up on MetroPCS anytime soon. Apple

MetroPCS Wireless stands alongside T-Mobile USA as one of the two carriers on the outside looking in when it comes to offering the iPhone.

When the prepaid carriers -- from Leap Wireless (aka Cricket) to Sprint Nextel's Virgin Mobile prepaid arm -- began offering the once-exclusive iPhone, a notable exception was MetroPCS.

Turns out the company never got serious in its discussions with Apple, MetroPCS President Thomas Keys told CNET. The major stumbling block was technology. Similar to the issue T-Mobile has had, the iPhone didn't run on the band of spectrum on which MetroPCS was operating. More importantly, it didn't yet run on 4G LTE, which was the company's focus.

In addition, MetroPCS was concerned that the volume commitments Apple would demand would hinder its ability to obtain phones from other handset vendors, Keys said, though he noted that he didn't have those details because Apple and MetroPCS never got that far into the discussions.

The iPhone has proved to be a boon to carriers in regard to subscriber growth and loyalty, but it has come at a cost. The high subsidies the carriers are required to pay out to Apple have hurt their profits whenever iPhone sales spike. Conversely, lower iPhone sales this period meant better profitability during the last quarter for AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

On the no-contract side, the cost of the iPhone is nearly prohibitively expensive, with the 16-gigabyte iPhone 4S retailing for $499.99 at Leap.

In late May, Leap said it would begin carrying the iPhone , marking the first time a prepaid carrier would sell the device. Virgin quickly followed.

MetroPCS may have better luck with the next iPhone, which is expected to work on a compatible spectrum and also run on 4G LTE. An iPhone would help it in competitive markets such as New York or Los Angeles, where it has to compete against the full resources of the big national carriers.

"We'd love to have the iPhone," Keys said, comparing it to a Dodge Viper that gets people into the showroom.

While the volume commitments are a concern, Keys said he doesn't really know how much of a burden they would be, and that he'd be open to having talks again.

"We don't know what that commitment would be," he said.

MetroPCS earlier today unveiled a new $55 plan with completely unlimited data -- similar to Sprint's unlimited offering -- along with a new $149 Android smartphone from LG.

MetroPCS framed the offering as a promotional one -- it's only other completely unlimited plan costs $70 a month -- but Keys wouldn't say it would end.

"We didn't want to set an artificial timeline," he said.

 

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