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MetroPCS doubles reach, outs its own Lumia 521, Optimus F3

T-Mobile and MetroPCS want to move quickly to capitalize on any uncertainty in the prepaid market caused by AT&T's looming acquisition of rival prepaid business Leap Wireless.

The Lumia 521 will show up to MetroPCS tomorrow.
Josh Miller/CNET

T-Mobile said on Thursday that it has doubled the presence of its low-end prepaid arm MetroPCS as it looks to continue sticking it to AT&T.

MetroPCS service is available in 15 additional markets, including Washington, D.C., Houston, Seattle, and San Diego. The service also gets two new prepaid phones starting tomorrow: Nokia's Lumia 521 and the LG Optimus F3.

More specifically, a vast majority of the new markets overlap with prepaid rival Leap Wireless, which AT&T agreed to acquire in a $1.2 billion deal announced earlier this month. T-Mobile and MetroPCS hope to capitalize on any potential confusion or uncertainty that the looming acquisition is creating for customers of Leap, which markets its service under the Cricket Wireless brand.

"We have a moment in time here, and we're moving quickly to seize it," T-Mobile Chief Marketing Officer Mike Sievert said in an interview with CNET. "It's going to take (AT&T) months to get there. There's not a moment to lose."

MetroPCS Chief Operating Officer Thomas Keys called the Leap base of customers "a jump ball" that would be up for grabs in the coming months.

On whether T-Mobile would attempt to snatch Leap from AT&T, Sievert declined to comment. But the company is unlikely to make a move, with Sievert claiming AT&T overpaid for the business.

"Our job is to take customers the old-fashioned way and save us billions of dollars in the process," he said.

The expansion shows MetroPCS is far from a dead brand, as parent company T-Mobile looks to advance into even more markets. The project was coined "Apollo 15," and Keys said he was already looking at the plans for a potential "Apollo 30," and hoped to have a big rollout in the first quarter. Sievert added that MetroPCS may add markets one at a time when possible, relying solely on MetroPCS's network of dealers to expand its distribution capabilities.

Now playing: Watch this: Sprint's 4-inch, LG Optimus F3

MetroPCS has the task of selling customers on devices and services that run on T-Mobile's network. Sievert said it's an easy sell, with the T-Mobile network offering up a connection speed that's seven times faster. T-Mobile wants to get as many people moved off of the MetroPCS network so it can take that spectrum and bolster its own LTE network.

The MetroPCS offer of a flat $40 fee for unlimited talk, text, and 500 megabytes of "high-speed data" is actually $10 cheaper than the comparable T-Mobile plan. But Sievert said he doesn't fear overlap, as T-Mobile pushes its traditional plans and services to higher-end customers who would consider AT&T and Verizon Wireless as well. The MetroPCS service, which requires customers to purchase their phones upfront, is geared more towards a less affluent demographic generally found in urban areas.

Its biggest competition likely comes from Sprint and its two prepaid arms, Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile. The brands each target the youth and urban markets as well.

While T-Mobile has its Jump early upgrade program and monthly installment plans for high-end phones like the Galaxy S4, MetroPCS is more focused on affordable phones that need to be purchased upfront.

The Lumia 521, for instance, costs $99, but can only access the HSPA+ network, which is generally slower than LTE. The Optimus F3 costs $149 and does have access to LTE. The Lumia 521 was already available on T-Mobile, while Sprint is already selling the Optimus F3.

With the pool of so-called post-paid, or contract, customers dwindling, the industry has increasingly looked to prepaid as a growth opportunity. MetroPCS, which had been limited by geography before, could be a potent weapon as its expansion continues.

Here are the new markets:

Birmingham, Ala.
Cleveland and Akron, Ohio
Corpus Christi, Texas
Fresno, Calif.
Memphis, Tenn.
New Orleans
Rio Grande Valley, Texas
San Antonio and Austin, Texas
San Diego
Seattle and Tacoma, Wash.
Tallahassee, Fla.
Toledo and Sandusky, Ohio
Washington, D.C.