On October 29th, Google and LG announced the next iteration of Nexus mobile phone devices, the Nexus 4, which will be available via the Play Store on November 13th. This is a beautiful 4.7”, gorilla glass encased beauty. For those not familiar, Nexus devices are (typically) announced in conjunction with a new version of Android and are known to run “pure” Android. Most Android users do not know of pure Android. The big three Android phone manufacturers are known to add “skins” to Android devices in order to differentiate themselves from their competitors. If you use an HTC phone, you use Sense, Motorola uses Blur, and Samsung uses TouchWiz. In addition to adding (in my opinion) these undesirable skins, manufacturers also sell out and add “crapware”, which are apps that companies pay manufacturers to include which cannot be removed. A good example of this is how my HTC Rezound, purchased last year, included a Blockbuster app. Seriously?
I would venture a guess that the average phone user has no problem with these skins. But I do. There are many reasons I long for a Nexus device, the main being the first to receive the latest versions of Android. Before describing Google’s inability to efficiently push updates to devices, I’m going to describe where Apple excels. Apple has such clout over carriers, it is able to push out its own device updates, completely bypassing carrier interference. Android, however, has no such power. Carriers are known to hold up device updates so long that phones typically run Android versions two generations old. Nexus devices are supposed to alleviate this issue, but things aren’t always perfect. Verizon delayed the update of the current Nexus device (Samsung Galaxy Nexus) for almost six months while simulaneously disabling a key feature known as near field communication (NFC).
Google is aware of this issue. That is why the new Nexus device is being sold unlocked through the Google Play Store for $300(!) for multiple carriers.. This is an incredible price for a device that can be purchased outright without a contract. The only problem? I can’t get this device on Verizon. With the Nexus 4, Google aimed to create one device that could be used on as many networks as possible. They wanted to create an unlocked device by which they could efficiently manage pushing updates. This is where Verizon makes things impossible.
In 2008, Verizon purchased 700 MHz “C block” spectrum which has FCC “open access” rules attached to it. This means Verizon must allow any compatible device to connect to networks deployed on this spectrum. This is the spectrum Verizon uses to deploy some (probably never all) of its 4G LTE network. Verizon’s LTE is a hybrid network, meaning it still relies heavily on its CDMA network (deployed on different spectrum), which do not have “open access” rules attached. As a result, any LTE device connected to Verizon’s LTE network will remain locked, and any phone updates pushed to devices will have to be approved by Verizon.
The Nexus 4 is not in my future. But I am hopeful Google’s move to give carriers the finger by developing an unlocked device will pay off. I am hopeful that someday, Android will have the ability to tell carriers what to do with the spectrum they are licensing from the people.