AT&T’s exclusive Lumia deal spells trouble for Nokia

AT&T said today that it has an exclusive deal to sell the Nokia Lumia 920, the high-end Windows Phone 8 handset expected to come to market next month. AT&T will also offer the mid-range Lumia 820.

This could be a big win for AT&T, which is bulking up its smartphone lineup ahead of what promises to be an active holiday season. AT&T will also carry HTC’s Windows Phone 8X, another high-end gadget running Microsoft’s mobile operating system. This also may be good news for Microsoft: AT&T has sold more Windows Phone handsets than any other carrier (as it reminded us in its press release), and it is likely to throw substantial marketing muscle behind its new smartphones.

But Nokia certainly appears to be the loser here, as CNET’s Roger Cheng wrote this morning. The Lumia 920 will be the manufacturer’s latest flagship device but will be available to less than half of U.S. mobile consumers. And it will have to share the spotlight with HTC’s new phone rather than enjoy the spotlight that any exclusive deal should bring. Nokia has gone all-in with Windows Phone, as I wrote a few weeks ago, and its future may hinge on sales of the Lumia 920. In the U.S., at least, those sales have just been handcuffed.