Holiday handsets 2011: Carriers compete to give the gift of wireless

The holiday shopping season unofficially begins Nov. 25--Black Friday. In anticipation of the start of the season, FierceWireless assembled this holiday smartphone guide to provides details on the marketing and features for the top smartphones and tablets the Tier 1 wireless carriers will be promoting.

Every year the focus on smartphones and tablets (and their attendant data plans) has increased, which is why we have focused exclusively on these devices. This list is by no means exhaustive. (And don't forget to see how this year's holiday handsets stack up against last year's list.)

There are several themes that emerge when looking at the list. The most obvious is that three Tier 1 carriers--Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) and now Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S)--are supporting Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone. T-Mobile USA, left out of the iPhone sweepstakes, is focusing much of its holiday marketing firepower on Android devices, which have accounted for the bulk of its device sales this year. At the same time, Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) is trying to make a splash with its BlackBerry 7 devices in advance of its BBX phones coming next year, and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) is hoping its Windows Phone Mango devices can find traction in a crowded market.

All of the carriers are employing a bag of promotional tricks to entice customers into signing up for lucrative contracts this holiday season. Verizon is doubling the amount of data LTE smartphone customers can have, AT&T is offering a free smartphone when customers buy its LTE-enabled Samasung GalaxyTab 8.9 (though each requires a two-year contract), Sprint is pushing its unlimited data plans and wide array of devices and T-Mobile is touting its newest Android phones, HSPA+42 network and Monthly 4G plans.

It's going to be a busy holiday season, so here's a glance at how things stack up. --Phil