T-Mobile will sell the OnePlus 6T in October

OnePlus’ next flagship phone will get a feature that’s new to the company: the backing of a major US carrier.

T-Mobile will be the exclusive US carrier partner for the OnePlus 6T when it launches in October, according to people familiar with the launch plans. That includes a specific version of the OnePlus 6T optimized for T-Mobile’s network, the people said.

The company, however, will still sell its standard global version that’s unlocked and able to run on either AT&T or T-Mobile. The price of the OnePlus 6T is tentatively set at $550, although that hasn’t been finalized.

For the phone-savvy, OnePlus represents an alternative to the $1,000 super premium smartphones offered by Samsung (Galaxy Note 9) and Apple (iPhone X). Its rise in popularity coincides with the decline of older stalwarts like HTC and LG.

The only hiccup with the US launch could come from the testing required by T-Mobile to get certification on the network. OnePlus is still in the process of getting what’s known as “technical approval” at the carrier, according to one person. Failure to get the approval could cause a delay with the carrier launch.

The partnership underscores the progress that OnePlus has made in the US. The Chinese phone maker isn’t a household name, but has long attracted diehard Android fans for its mix of high-end specs and affordable prices. Having a place at T-Mobile stores means it’ll attract more mainstream awareness.

“Getting carrier shelf space is a prerequisite to volume sales in the US,” said Avi Greengart, an analyst at Global Data.

While the typical route for a phone maker hoping to break into the US market is to work with a carrier — typically on cheap phones first — OnePlus took a different route and has steadily built its own cult following here. Other Chinese companies like Huawei have tried and failed to go directly after consumers.

T-Mobile could give OnePlus a shot in the arm. The company’s CEO, Pete Lau, said in an interview in January that he would begin talking with the US carrier this year.

“If the right opportunity and right timing come along, we’ll be very happy to experiment,” Lau said through co-founder Carl Pei, who served as interpreter.

The odds were always going to be high that OnePlus landed at T-Mobile or AT&T, since its global unlocked phones are compatible with the two carriers. Because of the need for different wireless standards, OnePlus phones don’t work on the Verizon or Sprint networks.

T-Mobile’s version of the OnePlus 6T will be optimized for the carrier’s network, including the new 600 megahertz band of spectrum being rolled out that promises better and faster coverage.

A presence in a US carrier store doesn’t guarantee success, notes Lopez Research analyst Maribel Lopez. Just look at the Essential phone at Sprint.

But OnePlus’ younger, more technically savvy crowd, however, lines up well with T-Mobile’s core demographic.