AT&T crowns Motorola Atrix as lead Verizon iPhone challenger

AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) will throw its marketing muscle behind the Motorola Mobility (NYSE:MMI) Atrix 4G to counter the threat of Verizon Wireless' (NYSE:VZ) launch of Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone--an ironic role reversal as Verizon relied in part on the Moto Droid to counter AT&T's launch of the iPhone 4 last year.

The Motorola Atrix can be docked into a laptop. Click here for Atrix pictures and tech specs.The previously announced Atrix will be AT&T's new flagship smartphone. AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega told the Wall Street Journal that the carrier's marketing for the Atrix will be similar to what it provided for the iPhone and, before that, the Motorola Razr. Verizon began taking pre-orders for the iPhone Feb. 3 for existing customers, and will launch the device Feb. 10.

AT&T will sell the Atrix for $199.99 with a two-year contract beginning March 6; pre-orders will begin Feb. 13. The Atrix supports HSPA+ and runs version 2.2. of Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android platform. The device has a dual-core Nvidia Tegra 2 processor, 1 GB of RAM, front-facing VGA camera and back-facing 5-megapixel camera, as well as a fingerprint reader for extra security. The phone also is supported by two different docks: One is a multimedia dock, which has three USB ports and an HDMI port enabling connections to a keyboard, mouse, speakers and HDMI-compatible monitor; the other dock is a laptop dock that has an 11.6-inch screen, full keyboard, stereo speakers and a battery that delivers up to eight hours of battery life.

The Atrix will will be bundled with the laptop dock for a promotional price of $499.99 with a two-year service contract and $100 mail-in-rebate, but must be combined with AT&T's Data Pro smartphone data plan and tethering add-on (the Data Pro plan is $25 for 2 GB and the tethering add-on provides an additional 2 GB for $20). The laptop dock is $499.99 when purchased separately and the multimedia dock is $189.99.

AT&T's 4G marketing push appears to be a response to Verizon's LTE network launch, which the carrier has branded as 4G LTE, and T-Mobile USA's decision to market its HSPA+ as a 4G service. Though AT&T has rolled out HSPA+ network technology to its entire footprint, the carrier has not yet connected the full network to fiber backhaul. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said last week that the percent of the network that currently has fiber backhaul is in the "low to mid 20s," a figure he said will increase to 65 percent to 70 percent of the network by year-end.

AT&T said at CES it expects to introduce an array of new smartphones this year, including 20 "4G" devices running HSPA+ or LTE. Other HSPA+ smartphones in the pipeline include the HTC Inspire, which AT&T will sell for $99.99, and the Samsung Infuse. AT&T plans to  launch commercial LTE service by mid-2011, and will cover between 70 million and 75 million POPs by year-end.

Jeff Bradley, AT&T Mobility's senior vice president of devices, admitted to the Journal that AT&T was slow to adopt Android because it took a "wait and see" approach. Now, though, AT&T plans to launch 12 Android smartphones this year.

For more:
- see this release
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this Fortune article

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