That $20 price drop for the international Kindle goes a little deeper than the obvious competitive move; it was the company’s way of signaling that Kindle 2 and global Kindle are the same device. The conceit that there were two was a distinction without a difference save in one key respect: the U.S.-only Kindle 2s that are now sold out relied on *Sprint* 3G.. Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) confirms that AT&T (NYSE: T) will be the only 3G provider for U.S. and international from here out; Sprint (NYSE: S) will continue as the provider for U.S.-only devices already sold, including the Kindle DX. Spokesman Drew Herdener said Friday that the company plans to add a “Kindle DX family member with international roaming some time next year.”
The sales description on Amazon now reads: ‘Kindle Wireless Reading Device (6″ Display, U.S. & International Wireless, Latest Generation).” Amazon attributes the rapid consolidation to “strong customer demand for the new Kindle with U.S. & International Wireless.” Not everything will work everywhere, though. For instance, the experimental web browser won’t be available in most countries at first. According to Herdener, non-U.S. customers in some countries, such as Japan, can use the browser; the goal is to make it available everywhere. Wikipedia will be available to all customers.
What happens with Sprint? The formal reply: “Existing Kindle users (owners of the first and second generation Kindles and Kindle DX, all of which support U.S. Wireless) will not notice any change to their experience – they will continue to utilize the Sprint network in the U.S.” Well, yes, but Sprint will be losing on a couple of fronts. It no longer will get the marketing boost from being associated with Kindle and Amazon — and it has no room for growth. With this move, AT&T will control e-reader 3G access in the U.S. for almost every brand; it was announced this week as the provider for Barnes & Nobles’ Nook and already had been touted as the provider for Sony’s Daily Edition and Plastic Logic’s Que. Verizon (NYSE: VZ), now fielding a “not-AT&T” campaign, will provide service for the upcoming iRex e-reader. Amazon Whispernet is the company’s name for its 3G service no matter the carrier.
But, via Barron’s, Sanford Bernstein analyst Craig Moffett thinks the financial consequences to Sprint will be small; he estimates average Sprint revenue per Kindle user at $1.67. The real issue is that AT&T, for all the negative publicity about service courtesy of iPhone users, is global; Sprint is not and that could wind up costing it a lot more.