Microsoft’s forthcoming Lumia 950 and 950 XL phones are going to have rather limited promotion and availability in the US. The Lumia 950 will be available from AT&T, and both handsets will be available unlocked (and full price) from Microsoft directly. While easy access to unlocked phones is to be applauded, there is a lingering problem. The spec sheets of the phones indicate that they’ll support the frequencies needed for AT&T and T-Mobile (though it’s not clear if Wi-Fi calling will be supported), but they seemingly lack the CDMA and EVDO support necessary to make them usable on the networks of Verizon and, for those who care, Sprint.
This is unfortunate. While losing out on carrier promotion is obviously going to limit the impact that a phone can have, that might not be so terrible if at least customers who were interested in a platform could pick up an unlocked phone instead. Excluding support for the largest phone network in the US means that even this isn’t an option.
What makes this confounding is that the handsets are believed to contain universal modems that support all the phone technologies in use in the US: both the GSM family, used by AT&T and T-Mobile (2G GSM and EDGE, 3G UMTS/HSPA/WCDMA) and the CDMA family (2G CDMA, 3G 1x/EV-DO), as well of course as the universal LTE. Microsoft would still have to make sure the antennas supported all the right frequencies and get the right FCC certification, but there’s no real impediment to making a universal phone. Recent iPhones and several Nexus-branded devices have all had this kind of universality. The belief is that Microsoft has the right modem hardware, but for whatever reason decided to disable the CDMA portion.