Viva Las LTE! MetroPCS Launches LTE in Vegas with $299 Samsung Craft Phone, $55 Monthly Plan

LAS VEGAS — Wireless upstart MetroPCS announced the availability of the first commercial Long Term Evolution-based 4G wireless services in the U.S. today, with a $299 LTE phone from Samsung and unlimited text, talk and LTE web plans starting at $55 per month, taxes and fees included.

Though MetroPCS’s limited LTE plans aren’t going to scare true nationwide carriers like Verizon Wireless, whose 25-to-30 city LTE launch is rumored to be just a few months away, no small amount of credit is due to MetroPCS and its partner Samsung, who is not only helping out with the LTE infrastructure but also supplying the only LTE device, a $299 (after $50 rebate) BREW-based Samsung Craft phone that will be sold locally “as supplies last.”

The official press release sent to Sidecut Reports does not contain any predictions or promises for average download speeds for MetroPCS’s LTE services. Clearwire, which launched its WiMAX-based 4G services in Las Vegas more than a year ago, now offers its services in 54 cities (adding Orlando, Fla., on Monday) and advertises its average download speed as 6 Mbps, with bursts up to 10 Mbps; Verizon has said its LTE services should support download speeds in the 5 Mbps to 12 Mbps range.

Coincidentally, Sidecut Reports is in Las Vegas today, for a Verizon Wireless developer conference. While there is expected to be much talk and details about Verizon’s pending LTE rollout, it’s a good guess that much of Tuesday morning’s coffee-talk will be about MetroPCS’s early touchdown in the LTE game, on the kickoff day for Verizon’s developer confab.

According to MetroPCS chief operating officer Thomas Keys, the LTE launch is the payoff for a bet made 24 months ago by the company to skip any 3G deployments and go straight to 4G LTE. Though the Samsung BREW-based Craft is far from the gold standard of smartphones, Keys said it is a good fit for the typical value-conscious MetroPCS customer, more than half of whom Keys said currently use their smartphone as their sole means of connecting to the Internet.

Some more quick details about the phone and the plan: According to MetroPCS the Craft device has a 3.3-inch AMOLED screen, a 2 GB MicroSD card (which will come pre-loaded with the movie “Star Trek” just to make sure Vegas is by far the most distracted town ever, come Tuesday night), a 3.2 megapixel camera and camcorder, a slide-out keyboard and connectivity for both Wi-Fi networks and voice via MetroPCS’s 1G cellular network. (We’ll see if we can take a break from the Verizon conference to get a peek at a MetroPCS phone later Tuesday morning). Keys also told us that MetroPCS will have an Android-based LTE smartphone “by the end of Q1 2011,” perhaps beating Verizon to the punch again.

For $60 a month, MetroPCS LTE subscribers get access to special online media store called MetroStudio, supported by RealNetworks. There is also supposed to be an integrated “social media” application, which sounds like some kind of shortcut to Twitter and Facebook, no idea yet how that will actually work in practice. More details as we learn more in what is sure to be the biggest LTE-news day ever in the U.S.

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