Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 launch: Hampered by AT&T, T-Mobile?

Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 devices will land in the fourth quarter, but only on GSM networks initially. Why restrict a launch to the two worst carriers in the U.S. based on call quality?
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 devices will land in the fourth quarter, but only on GSM networks initially. Is a delayed launch on Verizon Wireless and Sprint such a hot idea?

As CNet News and Bloomberg report, Verizon Wireless won't be a launch partner for Windows Phone 7 devices. Those devices, which need to be fashioned for CDMA networks, will come later in the first half of 2011.

I noted on Twitter that this trade-off to launch on two likely U.S. carriers instead of all four may be a miscalculation. Some folks supported the decision and said a global launch is better than having four launch carriers in the U.S. The issue: Windows Phone 7 carriers happen to have the worst call quality. You can almost hear the dropped call complaints coming now. In the Northeast, an AT&T or T-Mobile device basically rules a Windows Phone 7 device out for me. And the OS was going to be considered with my expiring Verizon Wireless contract.

Here's the J.D. Power graphic on AT&T and T-Mobile call quality in my neck of the country.

No thanks. Meanwhile, those call quality ratings are the same in most regions, except for the North Central U.S. Simply put, all those folks in Wisconsin are going to have a rock solid network for their Windows Phone 7 devices.

Related; Microsoft talking 'major rewrite' of Windows Phone operating system?

Microsoft made the point that the majority of global phones are GSM and that's a fine argument. On paper, Microsoft's trade-off makes perfect sense. But here's the problem: Microsoft can't afford a so-so U.S. launch. And success in the U.S. often carries over abroad. Microsoft's GSM first decision is a bit Nokia-ish. Focus on the globe and put the U.S. at risk. It hasn't quite worked out so well for Nokia.

Others will argue that limiting the iPhone to just AT&T worked out just fine. And Apple's all-GSM focus has paid off around the world. However, Microsoft can't generate that Apple buzz and loyalty. People will buy an iPhone in the U.S. even if the damn thing can't hold a call for more than 3 minutes (and generally it can't). Do you really think consumers will do that for Windows Phone 7 devices?

If Windows Phone 7 is really as promising as some folks say Microsoft should want all the distribution possible. Take Samsung. Its Android devices are everywhere. It launched a tablet with all four carriers on Thursday. That's how you take share. You don't handicap a launch by picking the two worst carriers for call quality. In the end, no one cares if the phone is GSM or CDMA, they just want it to work.

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