Is Your Carrier The Fanboy or The Underdog?

AT&T (s t) this morning confirmed that it will add Palm’s (s palm) Pre Plus and Pixi Plus to its portfolio, in addition to Dell’s (s dell) Aero, an Android-based handset set to hit the market “soon.” But while the nation’s second-largest carrier will be the only U.S. operator to support every major smartphone OS, its strategy can still be summed up in one word: iPhone (s aapl). Here’s a quick breakdown of the tier-one carriers and their current strategies:

The Fanboy: Apple’s iconic gadget has been AT&T’s savior over the last year or so, even if its popularity has exposed the carrier’s inferior network. Wireless Intelligence reported a few weeks ago that AT&T saw 3.1 million iPhone activations in the most recent quarter — the second-highest quarterly total ever — more than one-third of which were new subscribers. And although rumors of a Verizon Wireless (s vz) iPhone have long floated about, there are no real signs that Apple will loosen AT&T’s exclusive hold on the gadget soon. Among the large U.S. carriers we’ll call AT&T the fanboy.

The Middle Manager: Verizon Wireless, meanwhile, has thrived by maintaining as much control as possible over its rock-solid network. Despite promising two years ago to support “any app, any device,” the carrier’s certification process has been notoriously slow, and Verizon has said that its upcoming app store will be the sole marketplace on handsets it sells — meaning customers looking to shop at Research In Motion’s (s rim) App World or Microsoft’s (s msft) Windows Phone Marketplace will have to download the storefronts. The company’s recent embrace of Skype is a positive step in the right direction, but as Om noted the partnership is a grudging one that underscores Verizon’s strategy of opening up just enough to stay competitive. With its stable network, and its politically savvy efforts to open up right before being closed becomes an issue, we’re going to dub Verizon the middle manager.

The Price Cutter: Sprint’s primary strategy to turn around its flailing business has been a simple one: undercut the big guys and shore up what was a woeful customer-care operation. The carrier threw the first grenade with the all-you-can-eat price war two years ago with its “Simply Everything” offering and recently launched a campaign citing the differences between its unlimited plans and those of the competition. Sprint also continues to pursue the prepaid market aggressively through its Boost Mobile and Virgin USA businesses, and it hopes to tap the WiMAX market later this year before LTE networks come online. So far, those moves appear to be working — slowly.

The Underdog: T-Mobile USA hopes later this year to leverage what could be the nation’s fastest mobile broadband network in the country. The company is rolling out HSPA+ upgrades across its network this year, giving it theoretical speeds of 21 Mbps down. That kind of performance could give T-Mo an effective way to hook customers before Verizon and AT&T flip the switches on their LTE networks, and that would help T-Mo keep some of those postpaid subscribers it’s been losing to its bigger counterparts.┬áIt also has been pretty savvy about trying new business models and services such as UMA phones and letting the Nexus One launch with its network. Like anyone who is behind, but keeps pulling out some crazy moves that show some heart, we’re going to call T-Mobile the underdog.

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Image courtesy Flickr user lincolnblues.