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Nokia Counts on AT&T for a US Comeback

LAS VEGAS -- 2012 International CES -- Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) plans to make its Long Term Evolution (LTE) Windows Phone debut on the small but growing AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) network, and it's counting on the carrier to help reverse its fortunes in the U.S. (See AT&T Promises Superfast 'Blended 4G'.)

Nokia CEO Steve Elop teased the device, the Lumia 900, earlier Monday at AT&T's developer conference and provided more details at Nokia's afternoon press conference. The device will mimic Europe's Lumia 800 but with a bigger screen, two-way camera and 4G connectivity. Execs touted the device's long battery life and People Hub that focused on integrating all of a user's modes of communicating. (See AT&T Developers Summit: What to Expect and CES 2012: It's Time for That Third Ecosystem, Microsoft.)

"It is the first real Windows Phone built for and designed for the North America market," Elop said, many times, emphasizing that it was built specifically for "the North American consumer."

Nokia was joined on stage by Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) CEO Steve Ballmer and AT&T CEO Ralph de la Vega, who both reassured attendees that Nokia is still relevant in the U.S. and that AT&T's LTE market -- now in 26 markets, covering 74 million people -- is the perfect partner for it.

"Believe me, I think Nokia is going to be back in the U.S. in a very big way," de la Vega said.

Nokia certainly needs that big comeback in the smartphone-centric, Android and Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) dominated U.S. market. It started out focusing on the low end with a budget phone for T-Mobile US Inc. but was waiting for its LTE versions and a 4G carrier commitment to be ready to start the real push. (See OS Watch: Nokia Aims to Be a US Contender Again and OS Watch: Did DT Dent Lumia's US Launch? )

"What it takes in a market like the U.S. is we have to continue to educate the market; it's about reviews, blogs, but also a critical component is our relationship with our partners," Elop said. "AT&T is a critical partner."

Elop also promised to work with Microsoft to prevent fragmentation and said Nokia won't introduce APIs that favor the Lumia over its competitors like High Tech Computer Corp. (HTC) (Taiwan: 2498) and Samsung Corp. He reiterated that the Android ecosystem is Nokia's biggest competition right now and that it needs others to "get things spinning."

Some other tidbits from the launch: Elop said that Nokia wants to work with as many carrier partners as possible, suggesting a Verizon Wireless tie-up may be in the future. And, he said that Nokia would supplement carrier sales with direct-to-consumer in some markets. It's also still holding off on tablets until it feels it can differentiate, Elop said, and Near-Field Communications (NFC) will be in the long-term roadmap, although it's not present in the Lumia line so far.

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

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