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Sprint finally hops aboard Lumia train with budget Lumia 635

The Lumia 635 will sell for $100 online through Sprint's prepaid arm, Boost and Virgin, starting December 23.

Microsoft's Lumia line has finally broken through to Sprint.

The Lumia 635 makes its way to Sprint as the first Lumia phone for the carrier. But it won't come in green. CNET

Sprint and Microsoft said on Tuesday that the wireless carrier would sell the Lumia 635 , a Windows Phone 8.1-powered smartphone that would retail at an off-contract price of $100. It will initially sell online through Sprint's prepaid arms, Virgin Mobile and Boost Mobile, on December 23, and hit stores at Sprint, Virgin, Boost and their retail partners in January.

By locking up Sprint as a partner for the Lumia 365, Microsoft finally has all four US national carriers selling a Lumia smartphone, a critical component for building broader awareness for its burgeoning mobile platform. The deal ends a freeze-out at Sprint that has lasted nearly a decade -- the last time the carrier worked with this team was in 2005, when it was the division was still with Nokia, and it was selling flip phones.

"We've had a little bit of a holiday from each other over the past few years," said Matt Rothschild, head of North American sales for Microsoft's Lumia division.

Microsoft gobbled up the Nokia devices division in April, forming the core of its own devices division, led by former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop. The division has been focused on cementing its prior US carrier relationships at AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless before moving on to Sprint, according to Rothschild.

"This represents the next step of our expansion of our operator partnerships," he said. "Sprint is the next chapter in the story."

Unlike the other carriers, Sprint's network runs on three different bands of spectrum, which together makes up its faster "Spark" service. The unusual configuration sometimes complicates the process for manufacturers because of the customization and testing required.

It's telling that while the other carriers launched their premiere Lumia smartphone with a higher end device, Sprint's first Lumia is a budget smartphone. The company, under new CEO Marcelo Claure, is on a campaign to push the value aspect of its plans and services, which is where the Lumia 635 plays in.

Sprint has long supported more budget-friendly smartphones and a willingness to cater to the prepaid market through Virgin and Boost. But Claure has shown a willingness to cut prices by as much as half to customers who defect from Verizon Wireless and AT&T.

While there have been several high-profile Lumia smartphones in the past, the line has had the most success with its more wallet-friendly products, where competition from the likes of Apple's iPhone 6 or Samsung's Galaxy S5 isn't so intense.

The Lumia 635 will be prominent in stores, Rothschild said, adding that the visibility extends to the prepaid stores and national retail partners such as Best Buy and Walmart.

Beyond the price, Rothschild said the company would play up the element of the Lumia 635 and Windows Phone as one aspect of the holistic Microsoft experience, which includes Windows on the PC, apps like Office and services such as OneDrive.

"We'll focus on representing the whole value of Microsoft," he said.

Sprint and Virgin will get the white version of the Lumia 635, while Boost gets a cyan version.