AT&T to be 'premier' Windows Phone 7 vendor

Carrier remains bullish on Microsoft's mobile OS

Say all you want about whether Windows Phone 7 (WP7) will succeed, but AT&T continues to back the platform wholeheartedly after endorsing it -- and Microsoft's mobile efforts -- repeatedly over the last year.

"We'll be the premier carrier for Windows Phone 7," a spokeswoman said via e-mail on Monday. "We haven't given guidance on timing."

The spokeswoman wouldn't elaborate about what a premier carrier would do to promote WP7 and phones running it. Analysts have noted the value to Microsoft of getting as many carriers on board as possible, especially given the failure of Microsoft Kin phones sold by Verizon Wireless and Microsoft's move away from the Windows Mobile 6.x platform.

Well-known Altimeter Group analyst Michael Gartenberg tweeted last week that AT&T had signed up to buy 8 million WP7 devices, citing an e-mail from a "trusted source." His comment could not be confirmed. By comparison, about 55 million smartphones shipped globally in the first quarter of 2010.

Both Verizon and Sprint Nextel refused to comment about their plans for WP7, and the fourth-largest carrier, T-Mobile USA, did not respond to a question on its plans.

A Microsoft spokeswoman last week said neither Microsoft nor the mobile operators have any announcements on whether they will have WP7 phones when they become generally available this fall. She did note, however, that Microsoft indicated at its WP7 announcement at Mobile World Congress in February that its US partners were AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon.

Analysts said that carriers, just like device manufacturers, could easily indicate interest in supporting the platform as "partners" and then later pull back -- or take a bigger role.

It's likely that all of the major carriers are scrutinizing the reaction by developers to reference hardware phones running WP7 that were recently distributed by Microsoft. Some developers have bemoaned features missing in WP7 such as full multi-tasking, copy and paste and a native Twitter client; others believe Microsoft is likely to add such features in coming generations.

AT&T has stood out in its praise for Microsoft and WP7 in recent months. At the CTIA show in March, Jeff Bradley, senior vice president of mobile devices for AT&T, said in an interview that the carrier was looking forward to selling WP7 phones for use on its network when they become available.

Referring to Microsoft, Bradley said at the time that it had "raised the bar substantially" with Windows Phone 7 making it "very, very comparable to any smartphone on the market."

Bradley could not be reached for comment.

For years, AT&T has sold phones based on Windows Mobile software and bragged last year that it sold more Windows Mobile devices than any other carrier globally.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at  @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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