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No Windows Phone 7 handsets on Verizon, Sprint until 2011

Microsoft may be a tough fight with the imminent restart of its smart phone business to admit that it delayed the CDMA version of Windows Mobile 7 until 2011 – so there is no new Windows Mobile devices on Sprint or Verizon Wireless this year.

A Microsoft exec told CNET that only GSM handsets will be available for the fall kickoff of Windows Phone 7, and since T-Mobile has yet to confirm whether it’ll have WP7 smartphones ready for the big launch, that may leave just one major U.S. carrier to offer Microsoft’s revamped handsets on Day One: AT&T.

So, why the decision to skip CDMA until next year? Windows Phone 7 senior project manager Greg Sullivan told CNET’s Ina Fried that it was all a matter of priorities, with the CDMA version of Windows Phone 7 ending up on the back burner for 2010 as Microsoft works on a “major rewrite” of its all-new mobile OS.

“We had to make some trade-offs,” said Sullivan in the CNET story, adding that CDMA versions of the phones should be ready in the first half of 2011. “We had to prioritize doing fewer things, really, really well.”

It’s hard to see anything but the news is a blow to Microsoft’s attempt to back into the smartphone game. Verizon is the largest and most popular of the four major U.S. airlines, for starters, while AT & T – which could end up as the only standard-bearer for Windows Mobile 7 on launch day – has seen, bringing its reputation after of all the problems frustrated with the connection experienced iPhone users.

And even if Microsoft does see some of its new smartphones arrive on T-Mobile before the year is out, the carrier has the smallest subscriber base of the Big Four, with a 3G footprint that pales compared to its three largest competitors.

On the other hand, having your big new phone debut on Verizon Wireless doesn’t guarantee a success. Just as Microsoft, which saw its failed experiment in social-messaging phones — the ill-fated Kin — flop after just two months as a Verizon exclusive.

No, the secret seems to be having as wide a distribution as possible — a strategy that Samsung’s clearly taken to heart, having recently bowed four of its new Galaxy S Android phones on all of the Big Four carriers, while the just-announced Samsung Galaxy Tab will also see distribution across all four national carriers. And let’s not forget that Android phones in general are grabbing market share thanks to their availability on all the major U.S. wireless operators.

Of course, the original Android phone (the T-Mobile G1) got a pretty slow start as a T-Mobile exclusive back in 2008, and the Android platform turned out just fine. But with the iPhone and Android aggressively grabbing smartphone market share, Microsoft is arguably facing a much shorter runway in 2010 than Google did with Android two years ago.

And that’s a shame, because what I expect from Windows Mobile 7, I have liked to see, and Microsoft is currently burning its Windows Mobile with its afterburner completed WP7 software developer kit and impressive demonstrations of the upcoming apps from the likes of Twitter, Netflix, Flixter and Open Table.

To my mind, Windows Phone 7 deserves a fighting chance; I just hope it gets one.

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