UPDATE 1-Leap CEO says ARPU and churn improving

* ARPU, churn helped by smartphone sales

* Eyes 4G for 2011

* Looking at 4G alternatives like Clearwire, LightSquared

* Leap shares up 1.9 pct

NEW YORK, Dec 8 (Reuters) - Leap Wireless LEAP.O is seeing improvements in its average revenue per customer and a decrease in the rate of customer defections, according to Chief Executive Doug Hutcheson.

Leap shares rose 1.9 percent after Hutcheson said on Wednesday that the improvements were the result of factors such as strong sales of smartphones and easier ways for customers to upgrade their cellphone with a newer device.

“I believe we’ll really be able to drive this business ahead as we move through the selling season,” Hutcheson told the UBS annual global media and Communications conference.

The executive also noted that Leap would start upgrading its network with higher data speeds in 2011 and continue the upgrades into 2012 and 2013.

But he said that as well as using its own network the company would also looking at forging agreements with wholesale operators such as Clearwire Corp CLWR.O, which is already building a high-speed network and LightSquared, which is planning to build a mobile network if it gets enough funding.

“We’re not focused on doing it all by ourselves,” he said. “There’s some interesting alternatives we might look at.”

Leap shares were up 21 cents or 1.9 percent at $11.32 on Nasdaq. (Reporting by Sinead Carew; editing by Dave Zimmerman)