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If Microsoft builds it, will carriers come? Not for the Lumia 950 and 950 XL

Microsoft continues to fight for scraps in the smartphone market. Launching a product in the US without wide carrier support is unlikely to change the landscape.

Typically, when a new phone is launched my email inbox is flooded with carrier press releases announcing their full support, planned launch period, and possibly pricing details. After the Microsoft Lumia 950/950XL announcement yesterday I had a single email from AT&T stating they would carry only the Lumia 950.

It was first reported that the Lumia 950 may be an AT&T exclusive, but CNET later clarified that the deal was not exclusive. Even worse than an exclusive though is that no other carrier may ever release either the Lumia 950 or Lumia 950 XL.

We reached out to Microsoft regarding the apparent lack of US wireless carrier adoption and were given the following:

As of yesterday, AT&T announced their intent to carry the Lumia 950 through AT&T. Additionally, both the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL will be available through Microsoft stores. We have no further details to share at this time on distribution.
We encourage customers to check with their local carrier or retailer for the latest availability, and beyond that have nothing to share about additional U.S. partner operators.

AT&T has always carried the latest Lumia devices, but its support has been tepid. There was the promise that AT&T would actively support the Nokia Lumia 900 and there was loads of advertising -- for about a week or two. After the initial hype, Lumia 900s were found at the back of the store while AT&T focused on more successful iPhone and Android devices.

Microsoft's smartphone market share reached a high in the US of about 3.5 percent, but typically hangs in the sub-3 percent range. Launching a couple of new phones without official support from all four major US carriers is not a path to mobile success. The first Apple iPhone was the only phone that sold with great success from a single carrier and that was due to timing.

The world has changed since 2007 and smartphone parity has been reached across the platforms, making switching to a Lumia a much harder sell. Since the majority of US consumers purchase their phone directly from a carrier, often thinking they are only paying $99, the release of the Lumia 950 and 950XL is unlikely to change anything for Microsoft in the US.