If there was any proof that what smartphone users really, really want is LTE then the exciting story of the Google Nexus Phone and the Phantom LTE chip should put paid to that.
When Google released its latest smartphone, the Nexus 4, all and sundry were duly shocked and surprised to find that it lacked LTE support. This truly was unexpected, as all recent flagship smartphone releases, such as the Samsung Galaxy SIII and the iPhone 5 have featured LTE support.
Google’s explanation for this, delivered by Android head honcho Andy Rubin, was that it was a ‘tactical issue’, which of course means nothing. He also cited cost and battery life concerns but the most likely suggestion for the omission that I have seen is that if Google included LTE that it would not have had to do deals with the carriers in the US to get onto their network, and that would have prevented it from selling the phone unlocked in its own online store – which would essentially defeat the purpose of having a Google branded phone, and eat into its revenue.
However, it turned out that while LTE was not on the list, it had still gatecrashed the party.
iFixit, a web site that loves its teardowns, where a gadget is taken apart to find out what lurks within, discovered that there was indeed, an LTE chip nestling inside the LG manufactured phone. So why was it not turned on?
This time the explanation had to come from LG, and the quote was:
“In order to provide the best possible specification for Nexus 4, LG utilised the same powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset as can be found in its 4G LTE product, namely LG Optimus G. This powerful chipset is only available with a combined processor and modem and cannot be implemented separately.”
In other words it was cheaper for LG to leave the LTE chip in there than use a different chipset sans LTE.
The reason it could not be activated LG said was the LTE requires a dedicated antenna and filter to operate correctly for each frequency. This is what adds, bulk, cost and complexity to smartphones and one of the reasons why not all bands can be supported.
That seemed to be the end of that, until it turns out that some crafty people had managed to get that LTE chip to do its thing using some software tweaks. Users on the XDA developers forum (or in other words – hackers!) discovered a settings menu that enables them to turn on the LTE- and lo and behold it worked. So is this affordable LTE for everyone? (The Nexus 4 only costs around £250, compared to £600 for an iPhone 5).
Well, not for everyone. The hardware only supports Band 4, which is 2110MHz for the downlink and 1710MHz for the uplink. The only operator that use that is Telus in Canada, which is great for them, but not much use anywhere else. (See missing antenna’s and filters mentioned earlier).
It’s interesting though, as it reveals how politics, control and money can affect how devices and gadgets are implemented. It also demonstrates that ‘old skool’ hackery is alive and well. We are in the ‘post-PC era’ and mobile phones, particularly if they are running Android, are like PCs ‘back in the day’ – intriguing, powerful, and eminently hackable.