Sprint, Nokia ignoring each other on Windows Phone - for now

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Sprint Nextel's (NYSE:S) major announcement last week during the Consumer Electronics Show was that it will launch its first Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone 8 smartphones by the summer from HTC and Samsung. Left off that list was Windows Phone's biggest supporter, Nokia (NYSE:NOK)--and that seems to be the way it will stay for a while.

"We selected partners that have strong CDMA and Sprint roots for our first Windows Phone 8 products," Sprint spokesman Mark Elliott told FierceWireless. He declined to comment on whether Sprint will eventually launch Nokia's Lumia Windows Phones.

Nokia, meanwhile, seems content to not go after a partnership with Sprint for the moment. Chris Weber, Nokia's executive vice president of sales and marketing, told FierceWireless that the company is focused on building its existing relationships with U.S. carriers Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) and T-Mobile USA, rather than on expanding to more carriers.

"We constantly evaluate, in the U.S. market or whatever market, what partners we're with," he said.  "Right now our focus is really on broadening the portfolio with AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile." Weber said Nokia's goal for 2013 is to have high-end, mid-range and low-end Lumia devices at all of its carrier partners.

Nokia declined to comment beyond Weber's remarks.

In one sense, the estrangement of Nokia and Sprint is understandable. Nokia phones have not recently been sold by Sprint, whereas T-Mobile and AT&T (and to a lesser extent Verizon) have sold Nokia phones previously. Further, AT&T and T-Mobile were early supporters of Microsoft's Windows Phone platform.

"Nokia had a fairly contentious relationship with most U.S. operators, even ones considered partners," Strategy Analytics analyst Kevin Burden said, explaining Nokia's decision to repair relationships with old partners. "Part of that is working with them and not their competitors."

Still, Burden said he was somewhat surprised Sprint was not making a harder push to be Nokia's partner. That said, he noted that perhaps Sprint is waiting for upgraded hardware from Nokia, and is content to get newer Windows Phone devices from HTC and Samsung. "I think there's always the potential that Sprint and Nokia end up working together," he said. "The potential is greater when there's newer models coming out from Nokia."

Current Analysis Avi Greengart agreed with Burden's take on why Nokia is partnering with its established U.S. carrier partners. "If Nokia has a major comeback, absolutely they'll end up partnering [with Sprint]," he said. "I think Nokia is being very deliberate," he said, noting that Sprint has a multibillion-dollar commitment to sell Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone.

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