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Cellular’s Tales Of The Unexpected

The cellular industry has been chock full of surprises, courtesy of Apple, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Research In Motion (RIM), and the big four carriers.

First off, Apple confounded all of the blogger pundits who made a big deal about iPhone 4 reception problems. Seems no one listened to the bloggers. In its latest quarter ending September, iPhone 4 carrier AT&T activated a record 5.2 million iPhones, up 62 percent from the previous quarterly high of 3.2 million in the second quarter. Of the activated iPhones, 24 percent were owned by new customers to the AT&T network.

Worldwide, Apple sold 14.1 million iPhones in the quarter, up almost 100 percent from the year-ago 7.4 million and besting its previous quarterly record of 8.75 million units. iPhone sales exceeded worldwide BlackBerry sales of 12 million during the same quarter.

iPad sales: Apple’s iPad sales might have surprised analysts by coming in lower than their expectations, but give me a break. Apple sold 4.19 million iPads in its third quarter, up from 3.27 million in the second quarter, when the device became available. Analysts had forecast sales of up to 4.7 million, but Apple said supply issues restrained growth.

iPad sales are likely to grow at an even faster rate now that distribution has been expanded to Target, Walmart, and – this week – stores operated by AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

AT&T’s performance: Also surprising is AT&T’s stronger third-quarter wireless performance relative to Verizon Wireless. AT&T posted an 11.4 percent year-over-year gain in total wireless revenue (handsets and service) to $15.2 billion, while Verizon’s total wireless revenues grew 6 percent to $16.3 billion. AT&T increased total subscribers by 2.6 million, the highest third-quarter gain ever for the carrier, compared to Verizon’s 997,000.

AT&T also bested Verizon in net new contract customers (excluding resellers’ contracts with end users), posting 745,000 net new retail contract subscribers compared to Verizon’s 584,000.

With the increases, AT&T expanded its subscriber base to 92.8 million customers, still slightly short of Verizon’s 93.2 million. Those numbers don’t include embedded cellular connections to products such as e-readers, netbooks, in-vehicle telematics equipment, fleet-management systems, and the like. For AT&T, “connected device” net adds were 1.2 million, putting its connected-device total at 78.5 million devices, while Verizon netted only 251,000 net new connected-device bet adds for a total of 7.9 million connections.

3G/4G netbook: The number three and four carriers had some surprises, too. Sprint continued to support netbooks, whose industrywide sales haven’t met expectations, by announcing Oct. 31 availability of the Dell Inspiron Mini 10 netbook with embedded 3G/4G wireless modem through Sprint’s Direct Business Field Sales Team. That will be followed on Nov. 14 by availability through select Sprint Stores, other Sprint direct channels, select dealers, and business solution partners. The price is free after a $100 mail-in rebate and two-year service agreement.

Also on Nov. 14, Sprint will offer the Dell Inspiron 11z notebook with embedded 3G/4G through all of the same channels at $149.99  after $100 mail-in rebate and a two-year service agreement.

T-Mobile HSPA+ enhancements:  For its part, T-Mobile USA announced it would deploy multicarrier HSPA+ in 2011 to effectively double its HSPA+ download speeds, making them them comparable to those of 4G LTE networks now starting to come on-line. Multicarrier HSPA + also increases network capacity by letting data users complete their transactions faster, but capacity will still fall short of LTE capacity.

The technology also improves network performance at cell edges. In HSPA+ networks, average speeds drop considerably the farther a phone is from a cell site.

Multicarrier HSPA+ works its magic by merging two 5MHz downlink channels, enabling T-Mobile to deliver download speeds at a theoretical 42Mbps and real-world speeds of slightly more than double its current HSPA+ speeds of 5-8 Mbps.

Palm Pre Mature: Back in the handset realm, HP quashed premature conclusions by the industry that it would abandon the smartphone market after purchasing Palm and Palm’s WebOS. The company unveiled the Palm Pre 2 with a next-gen WebOS, making it available in Europe and planning a launch through Verizon Wireless in the coming months.

The Pre 2 will be the first handset with WebOS 2.0. New features include grouping together related cards, or apps, in stacks on the main screen, support for Adobe Flash (10.1 beta), a new QuickOffice Connect Mobile Suite, HTML5 browser support, Skype Mobile, integration of social networking services, and 1GHz processor.

The 3.96 inch by 2.35 inch by 0.67 inch device weighs 5.1 ounces and features 3.1-inch HVGA multitouch screen, slide-out QWERTY keyboard, 16GB memory, and 5-megapixel camera with LED flash.

BlackBerry QWERTY flip:  For its part, Research In Motion (RIM)Flaunched its first flip-type BlackBerry with full QWERTY keyboard. The BlackBerry Style 9670 is a 800/1,900MHz CDMA EV-Do Rev. A smartphone designed for Sprint’s network. It features a second high resolution display for previewing messages, phone calls, music and calendar reminders when the flip is closed. It’s the second BlackBerry to ship with BlackBerry 6 OS, which features graphical, context-sensitive pop-up menus and new apps for downloading podcasts, watching YouTube videos, and integrating RSS and social networking feeds. Other features include 5-megapixel camera, GPS, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, 512 MB Flash, microSDHC memory card slot for cards up to 32GB, and preloaded BlackBerry App World.

All this in just one short week.