--MetroPCS will launch unlimited 4G wireless plan Thursday

--Company cautious about commitment risks of iPhone for carriers

--Chief operating officer sees consolidation as inevitable

(Adds more comments from interview with MetroPCS's chief operating officer.)

   By Thomas Gryta 

MetroPCS Communications Inc. (PCS) will launch a new wireless plan this week to provide unlimited data on its next-generation network, as the carrier aims to keep up with larger players in the competitive smartphone environment.

The Dallas-based, pay-as-you-go carrier made a bet four years ago to upgrade its network using fourth-generation LTE technology and is pushing customers to use the more efficient system. Part of that strategy will include offering higher-profile devices to customers, but the company is cautious to make the costly and risky commitment to get Apple Inc.'s (AAPL) popular iPhone.

Meanwhile, MetroPCS is in the market for access to more airwaves, like many wireless carriers, as data usage is expected to continue growing. In an interview, Chief Operating Officer Thomas Keys said the industry faces inevitable consolidation, although he doesn't see a combination with rival Leap Wireless Communications Inc. (LEAP) as sensible.

While the MetroPCS lost customers in the second quarter--ending June with about 9.3 million subscribers--Mr. Keys is confident of future growth. The overall market is saturated, but he believes that prepaid companies can benefit from contract customers switching to prepaid. In the markets that MetroPCS operates, there are 4 million to 5 million people with expiring contracts every month, and it is even higher in the fourth quarter, he said.

In an effort to capitalize on that turnover, MetroPCS will offer unlimited talk, text and data on its fourth-generation LTE network for $55 a month starting Thursday, under a promotional offer that could last three to six months, Mr. Keys said. The no-contract plan is branded "LTE for All."

When the promotion ends, the price goes up to $70 a month, its current price for unlimited data, Mr. Keys said.

In comparison, basic wireless plans for smartphones operating on LTE networks from rivals start around $70 but frequently cost more than that and can include restrictions on either voice or data usage.

MetroPCS will offer the popular Samsung Galaxy S III on its network, although Mr. Keys wouldn't give an expected launch date. The company is currently testing the phone, he said.

While the next generation iPhone is expected to use LTE technology, Mr. Keys expressed caution about bringing such a device to the MetroPCS network because of the purchase commitments that Apple often demands of carriers. Rival Leap Wireless struck a three-year deal with Apple to spend $900 million on iPhone volume purchases.

"I don't want to cut off my nose to spite my face," Mr. Keys said of carrying the iPhone. While he would like to offer the device, he worries that having to push the iPhone would damage long-term relationships with other phone manufacturers. He declined to comment on any talks with Apple.

Although the Galaxy S III has a similar price point to the iPhone, it doesn't have the purchase commitment. He estimates that only 2% or so of MetroPCS users would be interested in such a high-end phone, equating it to a "Cadillac in the showroom."

Wireless carriers subsidize smartphones by hundreds of dollars for customers who sign a two-year contract, and charge higher monthly prices. Prepaid plans generally have a lower monthly bill but require a much higher upfront payment for the phone.

MetroPCS operates in 17 markets with a network that covers about 104 million people, Mr. Keys said. Its LTE network is rolled out on 97% of its cell sites. All the major U.S. carriers are upgrading their networks to LTE.

MetroPCS and Leap are often the subject of deal speculation because they operate in complementary regions with similar business models. MetroPCS attempted to buy Leap in 2007, and the companies have reportedly talked since then about a deal, but Mr. Keys downplayed any combination.

"If two companies that both need spectrum come together, I don't know that we have made our problem any better," he said.

Earlier this month, Leap said it is evaluating "all options," including cost cuts and potential asset sales, as it attempts to turn around its business.

Mr. Keys acknowledged that consolidation is likely inevitable because there is a limited amount of wireless airwaves to spread around, and most companies need more access. MetroPCS executives regularly discuss spectrum and how the company can acquire more, he said, but their need depends on the specific market.

Mr. Keys notes that struggling Clearwire Corp. (CLWR) is "sitting on a whole lot of spectrum," but it may require different technology than MetroPCS's current network. He said bankrupt Lightsquared Inc. is hard to assess because there are questions about the usability of its spectrum holdings.

The company might be interested in buying spectrum that Verizon Wireless is planning to sell, but Mr. Keys said those assets may not work for MetroPCS because it doesn't have any of its network deployed at the relevant bandwidth to make such a purchase worthwhile.

Verizon Wireless is a joint venture of Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) and Vodafone Group PLC (VOD VOD.LN).

-Anton Troianovski and Spencer Ante contributed to this article.

Write to Thomas Gryta at thomas.gryta@dowjones.com

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