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Cricket shifts full throttle with high-end Android phones, LTE

Keep your eye on Cricket. The prepaid carrier is about to make some leaps and bounds.

Huawei Mercury
Cricket's Huawei Mercury was its first smartphone to carry an 8-megapixel camera. Huawei

NEW ORLEANS--Cricket subscribers have spoken -- they want more premium phones -- and now the prepaid carrier is ready to deliver.

Cricket customers are beginning to care much more about technical specifications like larger screens, faster processors, and better cameras. Significant sales of the Huawei Mercury, which leaped to an more than10 percent adoption rate in the course of two weeks, proves it.

With that in mind, Cricket is going full-speed ahead with plans to expand its smartphone road map to include a range of smartphones, from entry level to the premium, with many more high-end smartphones on their roster, for a total of 10 new phones by October.

In general, the device mix will include more screens 4 inches or larger, with a 1GB processor or better. The goal is to sell entry-level phones in the $100 range and high-end devices upwards of $300 without a contract.

In addition to launching new phones with top-tier manufacturers, Cricket also plans to release LTE-capable smartphones, and plans to launch at least two before the end of the year. Although Cricket hasn't deployed LTE, it did start a commercial trial in Tucson, Ariz., at the end of last year.

By 2014, the carrier intends to cover two-thirds of its population with 4G LTE, both on its own and with the help of it network or roaming partners, including Sprint.

In tandem with ramping up the number of smartphones on offer, Cricket will also scale back its number of feature phones. Last year, there were nine feature phones and by the end of 2012, they'll have launched only three.

ZTE Score
Cricket Wireless' Muve Music service is making it some dough.

As for Windows Phone, Cricket Senior Vice President of device Matthew Stoiber says the company has made no commitment yet, but adds, "We're confident in Windows Phone 8 as an operating system that will be very marketing, and we are working with both Microsoft and a couple of OEMs to determine what the best device to go to market is."

Stoiber added that offering devices with diverse operating systems is important to Cricket. If you're wondering about the iPhone, Stoiber says, "It sounds like Apple will reach out to prepaid when it fits their strategy."

Muve Music a key player
A loftier device mix isn't the only element that attracts new subscribers. In 2012 and beyond, every Android device Cricket unveils will support Muve Music, its all-you-can-download music and ringtone rate plan.

Muve Music's product roadmap will increase the social features over time: integrating Facebook, and adding "novel" integration features later this year. The carrier also plans to implement what it calls a "lean-back listening experience" to complement its current on-demand downloading.

Cricket Senior Vice President in charge of Muve Music Jeff Toig sees opportunity to curate a mobile social experience through music that's much more involving than what we see today.

Cricket has momentum on his side. Muve Music has more than 600,000 subscribers, which Toig says makes them the second-largest music subscription service in the U.S., behind Rhapsody. It's also in talks with international operators to license the Muve Music platform, opening up an additional revenue stream.

There's also great opportunity to expand Muve Music beyond the tunes and develop a similar service rental for video, books, and games. They could also take the platform to tablets and cars. Is that in the stars? Maybe, but for now, Cricket is focused on building up music.

"One day we hope that music will be voice mail," says Toig. "You wouldn't buy a phone without voice mail."

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