OnePlus' next flagship phone will get a feature that's new to the company: the backing of a major US carrier.
T-Mobile will be the exclusive US carrier partner for the OnePlus 6T when it launches in October, according to several people familiar with the launch plans. That includes a specific version of the OnePlus 6T optimized for T-Mobile's network, the people said.
The company, however, will still sell its standard global version that's unlocked and able to run on either AT&T or T-Mobile, as well as networks overseas. The price of the OnePlus 6T is tentatively set at $550, although that hasn't been finalized.
For the phone-savvy, OnePlus represents an alternative to the $1,000 super premium smartphones offered by Samsung (Galaxy Note 9) and Apple (iPhone X). Its rise in popularity coincides with the decline of older stalwarts like HTC and LG.
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The partnership underscores the progress that OnePlus has made in the US. The Chinese phone maker isn't a household name, but has long attracted diehard Android fans for its mix of high-end specs and affordable prices. Having a place at T-Mobile stores means it'll attract more mainstream awareness through a physical presence in thousands of retail stores.
"Getting carrier shelf space is a prerequisite to volume sales in the US," said Avi Greengart, an analyst at Global Data.
While the typical route for a phone maker hoping to break into the US market is to work with a carrier -- typically on cheap phones first -- OnePlus took a different route and has steadily built its own cult following here by selling directly to customers online, often through "flash sales" where the product sells out quickly.
Other companies have tried and failed to go directly after consumers. OnePlus's growing success here as a Chinese company contrasts with some of its peers, including Huawei and ZTE, which have seen their efforts hobbled by government pressure. ZTE is just now clawing back from its near death sentence after settling with the Commerce Department in a deal pushed by President Trump.
This deal is a culmination of talks that began much earlier. The company's CEO, Pete Lau, said in an interview with CNET in January that he would begin talking with the US carrier this year.
"If the right opportunity and right timing come along, we'll be very happy to experiment," Lau said through co-founder Carl Pei, who served as interpreter.
The odds were always going to be high that OnePlus landed at T-Mobile or AT&T, since its global unlocked phones are compatible with the two carriers. Because of the need for different wireless standards or issues with network certification, OnePlus phones don't work on Verizon or Sprint. And while OnePlus is part of the same group that owns Chinese phone brands Oppo and Vivo, it lacks the resources to commit to building specific phones for different carriers. Verizon's notoriously high standards of testing already made a OnePlus phone on its network an unlikely reality.
T-Mobile's version of the OnePlus 6T will be optimized for the carrier's network, including the new 600 megahertz band of spectrum being rolled out that promises better and faster coverage. T-Mobile Chief Technology Officer Neville Ray has often boasted about the improvement to the quality of the network thanks to the new swath of spectrum.
The only hiccup with the US launch could come from the testing required by T-Mobile to get certification on the network. OnePlus is still in the process of getting what's known as "technical approval" at the carrier, according to one person. Failure to get the approval could cause a delay with the carrier launch.
Also, presence in a US carrier store doesn't guarantee success, notes Lopez Research analyst Maribel Lopez. Just look at the Essential phone at Sprint. Sales rep often push the most popular phones for the quickest sales, which tend to be Apple and Samsung devices.
But OnePlus' younger, more technically savvy crowd, however, lines up well with T-Mobile's core demographic. For OnePlus, getting a little of the Un-carrier mojo couldn't hurt.
The story originally published on Aug. 17 at 5 a.m. PT.
Update, 8:04 a.m. PT: To include additional background.
Update, Aug. 18 at 4:07 a.m.: To include additional background.
Update, Aug. 19 at 5:49 a.m.: To include additional background.
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