LAS VEGAS--Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) confirmed that it will launch LTE smartphones running Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone 8 by the summer. Sprint said it will launch devices made by HTC and Samsung Electronics, though it did not mention specific models. Sprint said in mid-November that it would launch Windows Phones this year.
Separately, Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) promised it would sell the Samsung Ativ Odyssey Windows Phone 8 smartphone. The gadget will join the Windows Phone 8X by HTC and the Nokia Lumia 822 in Verizon's Windows Phone 8 portfolio.
Sprint touted the fact that it will pair its Windows Phone 8 devices with its unlimited smartphone data plans, which remain a key point of differentiation between Sprint and Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T). Those carriers, along with T-Mobile USA, launched Windows Phone 8 devices in the fourth quarter.
"Sprint has had a strong relationship with Microsoft for many years so we are excited to reinforce our commitment to the Windows 8 platform by sharing the details and timing for our first Windows Phone 8 smartphones," said Fared Adib, Sprint's senior vice president of product development and operations. "These smartphones combine a robust new operating platform with the benefit of Sprint's unlimited data plans. There is no doubt these phones will quickly become an extension of your PC experience right in the palm of your hand."
The timing of Sprint summer launch could indicate that Sprint wants to expand its LTE network more before launching the devices. Sprint expects to cover 250 million POPs with LTE by year-end.
Sprint has launched only one Windows Phone to date, the HTC Arrive, which Sprint has said was one of its most-returned phones in recent history. U.S. Cellular (NYSE:USM) has also voiced support for Windows Phone 8, but has not said when it will launch Microsoft devices.
For Microsoft, getting additional carrier support will be crucial to building Windows Phone's market share. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in November that Windows Phone 8 will rapidly capture more market share as it builds on its relatively small user base. "With the work we have done with Nokia (NYSE:NOK), HTC, Samsung and others ... there is now an opportunity to create really a strong third participant in the smartphone market," Ballmer said at the time. "We're still relatively small ... I expect the volumes on Windows Phone to really ramp quickly."
Ballmer has said Microsoft will put its marketing muscle behind Windows 8, its Surface tablet and Windows Phone 8 for the biggest marketing push in the company's history. In addition to its own marketing, Microsoft had solid carrier support this holiday season: AT&T, T-Mobile and, perhaps most importantly, Verizon, all backed Microsoft's push to gain market share with marketing of their own.
According to research firm IDC, Microsoft captured just 2 percent of the global smartphone market in the third quarter, in contrast with Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android, which captured 75 percent, and Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone, which garnered 14.9 percent. There were 3.6 million Microsoft smartphone shipments in the third quarter, according to IDC, up from 1.5 million in the third quarter of 2011.
- see this Microsoft post
- see this Sprint release
Sprint confirms support for Windows Phone 8 in 2013
Microsoft's Ballmer expects Windows Phone sales to jump 'quickly'
Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile get ready for Microsoft's Windows Phone 8 push
Verizon to launch Nokia's Lumia 822, throwing its support behind Windows Phone
AT&T to launch Nokia's Lumia 920 and 820, giving handset maker a boost
Sprint hints at support for Windows Phone 8, BlackBerry 10, Tizen for 2013