I never would have imagined myself saying this, but by the way things look today, AT&T may be in the position for total US mobile market domination, if not already.
For a long time, American GSM carriers have had a tough battle against their CDMA counterparts (Verizon and Sprint). CDMA’s coverage and clarity have always proved to be more superior in the US. In addition, CDMA’s blazingly fast EV-DO rev.A 3G Data network have paved the way for most mobile fanatics; fans of GSM network had to suffer and settle with EDGE connection for quite some time. Finally, AT&T/Cingular made a great leap by launching UMTS/HSDPA for selected areas in late 2006. I would say that was the pivotal moment for securing their future dominance.
I am banking on AT&T to take total dominance because of their following strategies:
1). First GSM network to invest in 3G/3.5G infrastructure, beating out the other GSM provider, T-Mobile, to the race. This move has set AT&T up as a serious business solutions provider, offering respectable data speed over laptop cards or handsets. While entering this market a little later than Verizon and Sprint, they get a break on being a GSM network provider to offer flexibility to both domestic and foreign business men. Afterall, GSM is the network for Asia and Europe.
2). Brodening smartphone selections: AT&T worked with Samsung, Nokia and HTC to bring quite a few, very competent, smartphones to the market and kept up that supply. They kept most of the phones’ functionalities intacted (ie. WiFi, Bluetooth, etc.). They’ve also given subsidies which brings the cost of a lot of their phones to FREE after rebate (see smartphone bargain section on the right). This was always an advantage GSM carriers have to draw customers over Verizon and Sprint; if you have to start a contracted service, would you like to pay $50 or $200 for your smartphone?. Finally, the biggest boost in notoriety and success is the iPhone deal they’ve struck with Apple. This move single handily garanteed an insane amount of traffic, popularity, new customer acquistion and more… The move is simply brilliant, and I can only imagine Verizon’s upper management regretting as days goes on.
3). GSM Network. Due to this network's international coverage, by default, there is going to be more phones available to AT&T beyond the selections made available in their locked-in subsidized program. There is just going to be more unlocked, gray market support from both Europe and, especially, Asia. Additionally, AT&T is attracting Nokia to bring their flagship products to the mix. There are rumors indicating Nokia to bring their flagship NSeries smartphone (N95) to AT&T's already robust staple; in addition to the N78. Because GSM network offers more handsets that are quad-band supported (850/900/1800/1900MHz) , they give travelers (both to and from USA) a greater flexibility when visiting foreign territory. Albeit, Sprint is trying to launch more “world” phones in their selection, you just can’t beat the convenience of being a true GSM carrier.
Because of AT&T’s first-mover advantage in the US GSM data, wide array of smartphones and network that is more international, I believe AT&T is in a very good position to dominate the mobile market. There may be one threat in their way; that is T-Mobile. T-Mobile is known for their competitive pricing and services as well as providing a nice array of smartphones (ie. Dash, Sidekick, BlackBerry, Shadow, Sage, Wing, etc.). If AT&T wants to lock in more customers, I would suggest lowering the prices to their plans and services to achieve economies of scale (ie. $10-15 unlimited data plans and $5 unlimited SMS or MMS, etc.).
As is, my money is on AT&T.