AT&T is lining up behind Apple's iPhone and, now, Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 against Verizon Wireless, which is relying primarily on its Google Android devices and also on a stable of BlackBerry phones. The third largest carrier -- Sprint-Nextel -- is in its own world, using WiMax and CDMA 3G while T-Mobile, the fourth largest carrier, is still strong in GSM.
Microsoft and AT&T are scheduled to formally introduce three handsets next month. According to several published reports Friday, the phones will operate on the GSM standard, which has dominated the world's mobile phone markets for several years. However, as the carriers' underlying networks are upgraded, the battle lines among U.S. carriers threaten to become more pronounced. Microsoft's effort to regain traction in the mobile phone market is the next major event, likely to be followed in November by another massive sea change when Verizon unveils its long-awaited LTE network in 30 U.S. cities. AT&T is scheduled to follow with its own LTE network next year, and Verizon Wireless is slated to counter them with its CDMA version of Microsoft Windows Phone 7.
Microsoft's choice to debut Windows 7 on AT&T handsets shouldn't be considered a surprise given that the software colossus announced in February that AT&T was its "premier partner" for its upgraded mobile operating system. The velocity in mobile phones is currently dominated by the iPhone and Android phones; Microsoft's Windows 7 announcements this week indicate it is making a major effort to recapture the mobile phone OS lead that it once enjoyed. The company made a pitch to developers this week, seeking to add more applications to its meager supply of apps.
Microsoft's director for Windows Phone 7 Brandon Watson gave several hints of the company's direction as he promoted the operating system's development platform. Bing Maps and location apps, for instance are likely to be heavily promoted. He said: "We are now giving developers the ability to instantly build compelling map experiences that include a full suite of map functionality that users have come to expect -- search, directions, scroll, zoom, aerial view, street view and more, all with a single drag and drop operation. We've also provided this control with a free commercial license for our Windows Phone apps."
Watson also demonstrated some "near final" apps for Twitter, Netflix, OpenTable, Flixster and Travelocity that he said were original. "The developer platform is really all about enabling developers to build whatever they can dream up," he said. "Go get the tools. Build your apps. Launch them with us."
Facing Microsoft developers, of course, is the iPhone's massive wall of more than 200,000 apps and Android's rapidly expanding app store. Microsoft's mobile applications will be introduced to the world in early October.