Nokia quietly establishes U.S. beachhead at T-Mobile

All indications point to the Lumia 710 having had a decent start as the first Nokia Windows Phone in the U.S.

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Nokia's Lumia 710, often lost in the shadow of its higher-profile brothers, has actually gained a modest foothold at T-Mobile USA.

While not a blockbuster, the Lumia 710 has gotten decent traction at T-Mobile's online store. Web sites such as Amazon and Wirefly similarly have the device ranked high among T-Mobile customers.

Its performance marks a promising start to Nokia's attempt to reenter the U.S. market. And unlike conventional strategy, the Lumia 710 didn't achieve its success through the best specifications or the latest network connection. Instead, its attractive price tag and bang-for-the-buck value have convinced some consumers to veer off from the usual track of buying an Android smartphone.

The device, which initially sold for $49.99, but is now free with a service plan, has also helped T-Mobile steer basic phone customers into upgrading to a smartphone. The carrier is eager to tap into the upgrade market as it looks to re-establish itself as an independent carrier after a failed attempt to merge with AT&T.

"If you're new to the smartphone space, and there's no lock-in to the iOS or Android ecosystem, it's a great alternative," said Christopher Collins, an analyst at market research firm Compete.

The success of the Lumia line of phones is likewise critical to Nokia's turnaround efforts and Microsoft's ambitions to regain its status as a major player in the mobile devices business. As the first Nokia Windows Phone in the U.S., the Lumia 710 has the burden of creating a strong first impression.

T-Mobile and Nokia, while declining to provide specific sales figures, said they were pleased with the Lumia 710's performance.

"Since launch (the Lumia 710) has consistently been among the most popular phones in the T-Mobile lineup," said Cara Walker, a spokeswoman for T-Mobile. "We're very pleased with the product and the reception it's getting among our customers."

Nokia spokesman Keith Nowak: "We are certainly pleased with the positive momentum that we are seeing with our initial Lumia offering in the U.S., as well as the reaction we have seen from customers."

Of course, Nokia has a long way to go before making a significant dent in the U.S. market. Despite the support and the promotional push T-Mobile has offered the Lumia 710, Android smartphones continue to remain supreme. So far, AT&T is the only other U.S. carrier that has shown a willingness to support Nokia.

Still, given the minimal presence Nokia has had prior to the launch of the Lumia 710, the company can probably chalk the performance of its first Windows Phone endeavor in the U.S. as a small, but much needed, victory.

Strong interest
While T-Mobile and Nokia have been mum on the specific results, other indicators have pointed to healthy sales since the phone launched in January.

The Lumia 710 is among the top five phones ordered online at T-Mobile, according to Compete. In February, the first full month of sales, it was added to online shopping carts more often than any phone except the Samsung Galaxy S II and the T-Mobile G2X, the firm said.

While online sales typically make up 30 percent to 40 percent of a carrier's total sales, the Lumia 710's performance online is likely indicative of its success at retail stores, said Compete analyst Collins.

Other Web sites show the Lumia 710 has done well. It's one of the top three phones listed for T-Mobile at Amazon. Online cell phone retailer Wirefly lists it in the top five, and the company has said it has held up strongly in the past two months.

While top five may not seem like a dazzling success, analysts and industry observers note it's an impressive showing given the dominance of Android and the little brand awareness that both Nokia and Windows Phone have with consumers.

Wirefly CEO Andy Zeinfeld, meanwhile, said it was good for the industry to have another choice beyond Apple's iOS and Android.

"We believe it is extremely important for this industry to have multiple meaningful smartphone platforms for consumers to choose from," Zeinfeld said.

Following the announcement of the phone, T-Mobile promised a strong push for the device, and it delivered. The phone has prominent placement at the stores. Over the Valentine's Day weekend, it was one of the free phones heavily pushed by carriers.

Unlike past efforts with Windows Phone, T-Mobile sales representatives have been more willing to recommend the device.

"T-Mobile has been a pretty good partner in terms of executing on retail," Collins said. "Nokia has put a lot of energy behind it, which you haven't seen in the U.S."

In addition, the different feel of Windows Phone has helped the phone stand out among a sea of Android and BlackBerry devices at the carrier.

A short window
When Nokia launched its Lumia line of Windows Phone, it unveiled two devices: the higher-end Lumia 800 and the more mass-market-friendly Lumia 710. The media and gadget enthusiasts immediately gravitated toward the Lumia 800, with its unique colors and polycarbonate casing. The Lumia 710, with its lower-end parts and specifications, was considered an afterthought.

In Europe, the Lumia 800 is starting to make slow, but steady, progress. Specifically in the U.K., sales of the Lumia phone have overtaken sales of devices using its older Symbian platform, Bloomberg reported yesterday.

Even now, the Lumia 710's popularity at T-Mobile comes as Nokia attempts to make headway in the higher-end smartphone market with the 4G LTE-enabled Lumia 900 with AT&T. That phone, however, has yet to hit the market, and likely won't until April.

That only gives the Lumia 710 a short window as the sole Nokia Windows Phone in the U.S. Sales of the phone could peter out once AT&T gets into the game.

"I really expect to see interest decay when the 900 launches at AT&T," Collins said. "But so far it's been a pretty strong introduction to the market."

Nokia Lumia 710 (T-Mobile) hands-on (photos)

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