Sprint officials have so far been on the sidelines of Microsoft's new Windows Phone operating system, saying for months—even as larger carriers AT&T and later Verizon Wireless announced support for the OS—that they would keep an eye on it.
Apparently, Sprint management likes what they've seen. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Jan. 7, Sprint and Microsoft announced that by the summer, Sprint will begin offering two new Windows Phone smartphones, one each from Samsung and HTC.
The announcement was heavy on enthusiasm but light on details. The phones will be able to access Sprint's 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) network and feature dual-core processors, dual cameras capable of supporting video chats and support for external memory support.
As with other Windows Phone handsets, they'll also be able to access Microsoft's SkyDrive cloud solution and work with the Microsoft Surface and Xbox 360 console.
Pricing details will be offered closer to launch.
"These devices, coupled with Sprint's unlimited 4G LTE data experience, will make it easy for Windows Phone 8 customers to have the most personal experience possible, wherever they are," Terry Myerson, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Windows Phone Division, said in a statement.
Fared Adib, Sprint senior vice president of product development and operations, said the new phones reinforce the years-long relationship between Sprint and Microsoft.
"These smartphones combine a robust new operating platform with the benefit of Sprint's unlimited data plans," Adib said. "There is no doubt these phones will quickly become an extension of your PC experience right in the palm of your hand."
The announcement is a freighted one for all parties involved.
Microsoft launched the long-hyped OS Oct. 29, but growth so far has been slow. Over the long term, though, analysts have high hopes for Windows Phone. In June 2012, IDC forecast that, as long as Nokia can maintain its foothold in emerging markets, Windows Phone is likely to become the second-largest mobile operating system, securing a more than 19 percent share in 2016.
As of IDC's December 2012 estimates, Windows Phone currently holds a 2.6 percent share of the global smartphone market, putting it behind Research In Motion's BlackBerry OS (4.7 percent), Apple's iOS (18.8 percent) and Google's market-dominating Android (68.3 percent).
Smartphone maker HTC also could certainly use a win, as its market share and revenue have been devastated by the success of Samsung's Galaxy lineup. And even Samsung would be heartened by a winning Windows Phone device, as its reliance on Android is something of a conundrum for the company. Samsung executives have confirmed that they'll also try out smartphones running Tizen—an Intel-backed, Linux-based OS with roots in Nokia's homegrown MeeGo OS.
And certainly, Sprint, too, could use a win. Even newly emboldened by its Softbank windfall—in October Japan-based Softbank bought a 70 percent share of Sprint for $20.1 billion—Sprint is competing in a market in which Verizon and AT&T currently have considerably larger LTE footprints, and smaller competitor T-Mobile is poised to begin offering not only an iPhone but pricing plans that T-Mobile has promised will stir up the mobile industry.
As of Jan. 7, Sprint's LTE network was in 49 markets, with nearly 150 more expected to go live in the coming months.
Sprint is also the only major carrier to still offer unlimited data plans—which it said users of the new Windows Phones will also benefit from. Its unlimited $79.99 per month plan, Sprint said in its announcement, offers a "savings of $20 per month versus Verizon's comparable plan with unlimited talk, text and 2GB Web."