ATandT to Phase Out T-Mobile 3G Phones in Two Years

T-Mobile pledged that all of its existing phones will be safe should AT&T acquire the No. 4 wireless carrier next year. But AT&T noted that T-Mobile's 3G phones will need to be replaced.

Among the many ins-and-outs of AT&T's proposed plan to buy T-Mobile USA is the issue of what will happen to the carrier's smartphone lineup.

T-Mobile-which has 33.7 million subscriber's on its GSM-based HSPA (High-Speed Packet Access) network and a solid swath of 4G technology AT&T covets to build out its own LTE (Long-Term Evolution) plans-dismissed any worry.

The United States' No. 4 carrier said in a FAQ Web page that consumers' T-Mobile devices "will operate the same in the future as it does today." That's in the near term.

AT&T told Associated Press that customers using T-Mobile 3G phones would have to replace existing 3G devices because T-Mobile's existing 3G cell towers would be repurposed for 4G.

T-Mobile phones would need to be replaced with phones that use AT&T's 3G frequencies, or even upgrade to devices that run on AT&T's 4G LTE network. GigaOm noted that AT&T's time frame for this transition is within two years of closing the deal.

T-Mobile sells RIM Blackberry smartphones, Nokia handsets and plenty of feature phones made by Samsung, LG and others.

Android has arguably become as much its flagship platform as Apple's iPhone has become for AT&T. It was T-Mobile that launched the first two Android smartphones, the G1 in 2008 and the myTouch 3G in 2009.

T-Mobile currently offers roughly a dozen Android handsets in the U.S., including its HTC myTouch, Samsung Galaxy S, and Motorola Cliq portfolios.

Forrester Research analyst Charles Golvin told eWEEK AT&T would continue to push its own Android devices.

"But AT&T has a lot of Android phones-look at how much marketing muscle they're putting behind the Moto Atrix during the NCAA tournament-and will continue to invest in the platform, I think."

There's no doubt AT&T has ratcheted up its commitment to Android in the wake of Verizon Wireless launching the iPhone 4 in January. The Atrix 4G easily stands up to any Droid device from Verizon and the HTC Evo 4G from Sprint.

Certainly, the prospect of a buy-out in one year's time will raise concerns among existing customers and cause doubt among potential new subscribers. T-Mobile said in its FAQ that customers should still sign up for T-Mobile service:

""T-Mobile USA offers the latest wireless devices that are affordable on America's Largest 4G Network and the combination of AT&T and T-Mobile USA will mean even stronger service for our customers. Now is a great time to be a T-Mobile customer.""

But there's no question consumers will be loath to purchase a phone from a company placing its future in the hands of a rival with ambitious, potentially conflicting designs.