US prepaid regional operator MetroPCS looks set to beat its bigger rival Verizon Wireless to launch of an LTE handset. Samsung yesterday unveiled its SCH-r900 LTE smartphone, a multimode device that falls back onto CDMA networks when out of the reach of LTE. In a statement, the South Korean vendor noted that “the Samsung SCH-r900 will be one of the first commercially available LTE-enabled, multi-mode, CDMA, 4G handsets in the United States when MetroPCS launches the handset in the second half of 2010. The introduction of the Samsung SCH-r900 is part of Samsung Mobile’s collaboration with MetroPCS to deliver advanced LTE handsets, services and infrastructure.” Although MetroPCS’ plans for LTE launch this year are no surprise (and will include the area of Las Vegas), the availability of a handset is. Number one US operator Verizon Wireless – due to launch LTE in 25 to 30 markets later this year – does not expect to offer LTE handsets until the middle of 2011. Until then it will offer datacards and dongles.

Meanwhile Verizon yesterday provided further details on its progress with the technology. Following previously announced base station contract awards with Alcatel-Lucent and Ericsson, the operator said it has awarded a mobile backhaul deal to Alcatel-Lucent. Mobile backhaul is seen as key to handling the high-bandwidth applications and content that LTE will enable. Separately, Verizon said it is ready to start friendly user trials in a handful of markets in the US this summer prior to commercial launch by year-end.