Cricket Looks to LTE, Android, and Windows Phone 8

NEW ORLEANS—Cricket Wireless, the nation’s sixth-largest carrier, is doubling down on smartphones, adding 4G LTE smartphones and, potentially, Windows Phones to its low-cost, no-contract lineup.

“We are making a conscious effort to have a very small feature phone lineup. We’ll be migrating this summer to only three feature phones: one bar, one flip and one QWERTY,” said Matt Stoiber, Cricket’s senior vice president for devices.

The rest of the lineup will be smartphones, primarily running Google’s Android OS. Cricket is looking at 3.5-inch, 4-inch, and 4.3-inch-screen devices running Qualcomm’s single-core S2 MSM8655 chipset, a 1-GHz to 1.4-GHz part. Since most Cricket smartphone users are currently on entry-level phones with the slower MSM7627 processor, that will be a step up, Stoiber said.

(Separately, ZTE showed a 4-inch, Android 4.0-powered phone that the company said was coming to Cricket. Cricket wouldn’t confirm this. See PCMag’s hands-on with the ZTE V8000.)

CTIA 2011

The success of the Huawei Mercury, which has sold out in Cricket stores, has emboldened the carrier to offer some more powerful smartphones at around the Mercury’s $249 price point.

“People are very aware of the screen size, processor speed, memory, camera and functionality we have,” Stoiber said.

By the end of the year, Cricket will start migrating its lineup to LTE. Two Cricket smartphones will be LTE capable in 2012, and half the smartphone lineup will run on LTE next year, Stoiber said. Cricket is currently running LTE tests in Tucson and plans to start rolling the 4G service out publicly later this year, in tandem with some new rate plans launching in August.

LTE isn’t the only new network on which Cricket is working. Cricket is “committed to 1X-Advanced,” Qualcomm’s new 2G network technology, which improves voice capacity and coverage and lets carriers, if they want to, implement higher-quality HD voice. Stoiber didn’t say if Cricket is doing that, but Sprint is doing it. All three of Cricket’s feature phones later this year will be 1X-Advanced, Stoiber said.

How About Windows Phone?
Microsoft’s upcoming Windows Phone 8 launch is probably the worst-kept secret at the CTIA show. First, Sprint was talking about it and now Cricket’s Stoiber had even more to say, confirming that he’s currently discussing whether to carry the OS with Microsoft and phone makers.

“We have not committed to Windows Phone 8, but we’re likely to soon. I’ve seen Windows Phone 8, and it’s pretty impressive,” Stoiber said.

He didn’t name any potential makers of Windows Phones for the carrier, but HTC, Samsung, and Nokia have all reiterated their commitment to Windows Phone to me in the past few days.

Windows Phone 8 won’t replace BlackBerry, either. While Cricket has “sold through our warehouse inventory on the BlackBerry Curve, we’ll continue to have a BlackBerry product,” Stoiber said.

Cricket currently has about 6.2 million users, both on its own regional networks and nationwide through a virtual-network deal with Sprint.

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