LAS VEGAS—Alcatel announced a simplified lineup for its 2018 smartphones here at CES, but the bigger news for US consumers is that its low-cost, high-powered devices will “definitely” support T-Mobile’s new Extended Range Band 71 in 2018.
Alcatel doesn’t have any smartphones in T-Mobile’s lineup right now, although its A30 is sold through MetroPCS and its unlocked models all work on T-Mobile. The company has sold its Fierce line on T-Mobile before, though, so this may presage a return to the carrier’s shelves. Band 71, also known as 600MHz LTE, is a long-range frequency which T-Mobile is starting to roll out to cover previously underserved rural areas.
Alcatel will also pursue Verizon “for 2019,” Christian Gatti, global president for the Alcatel business division said. Now that Verizon is accepting phones without CDMA, it’s easier for new manufacturers to get into the No. 1 US carrier’s labs. Verizon plans so far ahead that efforts spinning up now might not pay off in 2018, though, he said.
Alcatel will unravel at least some of its Pop, Idol, and Fierce branding to have three lines in 2018: the 1, 3, and 5. The company showed us samples of all three lines, although as we asked more specific questions, things kept getting vaguer and vaguer. It’ll announce specific models at Mobile World Congress in February, where specs will become clear.
From what we saw, though, all three phones have the tall, narrow 18:9 form factor that’s becoming popular nowadays. The 5 is a low-cost premium smartphone Alcatel says will cost under $300 unlocked. It has a metal body, a single main camera, and dual front cameras, and felt like it had a 5.2-inch, 1080p screen. The devil’s in the details, of course, and Alcatel kept telling me that specs could change “model to model, and geography to geography.”
The 3 was larger than the 5—maybe a 5.5-inch screen—with dual main cameras, one front camera, and a glass back. The 1 had a plastic back and a grainy-looking plastic screen; it’s clearly the $99 entry.
The new, integrated plan means that some of Alcatel’s quirkier efforts may fall by the wayside. It didn’t sound like the company was going to follow up on the removable-back modularity of its A50 phone, for instance, or its VR headset bundles. If carriers want custom designs or to rename phones, though, Alcatel is still open to that, Gatti said.
The 2018 lineup is the first to feature TCL panel displays, Gatti said. TCL, Alcatel’s parent, is a major TV maker, and it’s now making LCDs for phones as well. The company is busy building an OLED plant and working on flexible displays. Gatti promised flexible displays in 2019, but wouldn’t give a time frame on OLEDs—only that “we will work on the OLED technologies.”
TCL expanding into OLEDs would be very good news for the affordability of OLED screen phones, as right now there’s a global shortage of OLEDs leading to high prices for those screens. The flexible displays, meanwhile, might not go into phones—they might be for wearables, Gatti said. But 2019’s a while away, so Gatti wasn’t making any specific promises there. We’ll see Alcatel’s actual 2018 lineup the last week of February.