Windows Phone 7 Surprise -- Only GSM at Launch

As Microsoft preps and primps for the rollout of Windows Phone 7, it's beginning to look as if the launch gala may not be well attended by U.S. wireless operators.

That's because, among the big U.S. operators, only AT&T and T-Mobile will be shipping phones that use Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) new mobile phone software when it's released.

Microsoft officials said they opted to partner with AT&T (the No. 2 U.S. carrier) and Deutsche Telekom-owned T-Mobile (in fourth place domestically) only instead of also striking deals with Verizon Wireless and Sprint (in first and third places, respectively) because they needed to make a choice: To meet its promised delivery in time for 2010 holiday sales, Microsoft had to choose only one of two major wireless network technologies to focus on.

That turned out to be Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM), which is the technology in use by T-Mobile and AT&T (NYSE: T).

However, Microsoft said its partners will deliver handsets that support the other main network technology -- Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) -- which is used by Verizon and Sprint, next year.

"In developing WP7, we are placing high-quality customer experiences above all else," a Microsoft spokesperson told InternetNews.com in an email. "In keeping with this goal, Microsoft chose to focus on delivering a great GSM version to the world first, and then a great CDMA version in the first half of 2011." Windows Phone 7 is rumored to arrive on Oct. 11. Company spokespersons won't confirm the date, or whether, as the rumors say, the launch gala will held at a site in New York and be broadcast globally. So far, Microsoft has only announced that Windows Phone 7 had been "released to manufacturing," or RTM, in early September.

According to one analyst, Microsoft is just being pragmatic regarding its carrier selection.

"Outside of North America, 90 percent of the market is GSM, including Europe, but CDMA is still more than 50 percent of the U.S. market," Jack Gold, principal analyst at J. Gold Associates, told InternetNews.com.

However, not having support for both technologies out of the chute cuts down on the number of potential customers.

"They're handicapping themselves," Gold said.

For instance, AT&T is still coping with critics -- such as Apple iPhone owners -- unhappy with wireless speeds or service availability, and many customers of Verizon or Sprint may not want to switch operators to get the phone.

Still, he's not writing Microsoft off. "I think it's more important to get something out that's good, something that gets to market quickly, and something that appeals to end users," Gold added.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @stuartj1000.


Microsoft, wireless, mobile, Verizon, Windows Phone 7