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Could MetroPCS go nationwide?

While Cricket in the battle of regional wireless carriers, the field has shifted a bit lately. Last month Cricket announced plans to go nationwide by taking advantage of its network partnership with Sprint. That opens up Cricket to many new markets it didn’t previously cover, including some market in which MetroPCs exists, but not Cricket. That left us with the question of what MetroPCS would do to counter. Last week we got a look at a possible answer: picking up spectrum from AT&T and T-Mobile.

In order to salvage their merger, AT&T and T-Mobile will have to divest spectrum in many of their common markets. That is, if they control more than half of the spectrum in any given market it’s likely they’ll have to sell that off to a competitor. MetroPCS, according to the cited Bloomberg report, is the frontrunner to pick up that spectrum. That’s what happens when you spend years outpacing your rivals: you have a more robust balance sheet and can more easily absorb large acquisitions such as this.
If MetroPCS is awarded the bid for the spectrum, it won’t be smooth sailing. Bloomberg estimates that the divested assets will total $4 billion. That’s not something you pay cash for. Apparently T-Mobile will help MetroPCS finance the transaction. That could certainly help. It’s not as though Metro can really walk away from this opportunity. It’s their big chance to become a larger player in the wireless industry, perhaps replacing T-Mobile as one of the Big Four. (While they’d be the fourth-largest carrier after the merger, they’re not nearly to T-Mobile’s current size.)
The additional spectrum could help MetroPCS expand its 4G coverage, something it has been working on for the past year. They’ve expanded greatly, though they don’t have much in the way of 4G handsets. That figures to change in the next year, CEO Roger Linquist told FierceWireless. They think that by mid-2012 we could see 4G Android handsets, off-contract, in the $100 to $150 range. If they can implement their new spectrum at the same time, they could be in for a nice boost in subscribers.