Google Play editions

Verizon and Sprint exercise more control over the phones that can use their network, and it takes a little more that just building one to make it happen.

In the midst of all the discussion over the merits and flaws of the Google Play edition Samsung Galaxy S4 and HTC One, there's a third discussion taking place, that more than a few people are interested in -- will we ever see a Google Play edition phone on Verizon or Sprint?

Now, we can't answer that any more than anyone else who doesn't make high-level purchasing decisions at either carrier, but we can talk about the issue a little bit. Hopefully this can address some of the questions surrounding the issue and clear up a little confusion.

The Google Play edition phones that are currently being sold will only work on AT&T or T-Mobile (or any of the smaller regional or MVNO carriers who use a GSM network) here in the U.S. The HTC One will only work at 2G speeds on T-Mobile, unless you're in an area that has already had the 3G network switched over to the 1900Mhz bands. Have a look here to see an unofficial map where that's been done. The phones are SIM unlocked, so will also work on any GSM network outside the U.S. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean you can stick the SIM card you use for Verizon LTE in one and get it to work, as neither phone supports the required network frequencies. The same goes for Sprint, as well as regional carriers like Cricket, Page Plus or U.S. Cellular. The easy way to check -- will the (non-Verizon) Galaxy Nexus or Nexus 4 work on the carrier? If so, the Google Play edition phones will work, too.

There is no technical reason that prevents Samsung or HTC (or any other manufacturer who wants to make one in the future) from making a Google Play edition phone that works on Verizon or Sprint. The same technology used to build the current carrier model HTC One and Samsung Galaxy S4 could be used -- it's just a change in software. Samsung and HTC can't just make them, because Verizon and Sprint do things a little differently when it comes to "activating" phones on their network.

With a GSM phone, you simply pop the SIM card into the slot and adjust what's called an APN (Access Point Name) to tell the phone how to connect to the network. As long as your phone is SIM unlocked and supports the correct frequencies, you can get them to work pretty easily. With Verizon and Sprint (as well as other smaller CDMA networks) the phones have to be activated by the carrier before they can be used. Often this is automatic and done from the web. However, the phones must be pre-approved by the carrier and in a database that has the unique ID number of all the phones that will be allowed on the network. Only Verizon can decide which phones are in their database. the same goes for Sprint. If Samsung were to make a Verizon version of the Google Play edition Galaxy S4, it still wouldn't work until Verizon wants it to work. The same goes for Sprint.

Sprint edition

Will we ever see Google Play edition phones on Verizon or Sprint? It's certainly possible. Current rumors suggest we're going to see the Moto X on every carrier in the U.S., and if interest in the phone shows that people really want a Google-type experience more than they want the original OEM experience, the carriers may take a second look. Google doesn't hate Verizon or Sprint, no matter what you may read elsewhere. Both are very valuable partners, and Google would be happy to help get their Play edition phones on both networks. 

We don't want to crush any dreams or fan any fires here. We just want you to be informed, and know the limitations of the current Google Play edition phones and a little bit of why it works the way it does. 

 

Reader comments

Ask Android Central: Google Play edition phones on Verizon or Sprint?

53 Comments

The only thing good about Sprint's CDMA network is the price and unlimited data. But I guess that's why I keep renewing my contract.

From the DARK AC App!

I agree with idontball, T-Mobile is cheaper, also has unlimited data, has faster speeds, and doesn't have contracts.

So why do you keep renewing your Sprint contract?

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Maybe it's for the actual phone coverage that T-Mobile can't provide. It's no secret that they have the worst coverage of the big four.

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Most people live in and around metropolitan areas...so for MOST people Tmobile's coverage is great. Just those in the boonies keep regurgitating this generalization.

I live around a metropolitan area (20 minutes away from St. Louis) and T-Mobile's 4G coverage doesn't exist by us, and 3G is spotty. And even folks who live in metro areas with good coverage, travel into the "boonies" occasionally and would like to have coverage during those times.
Having broad sweeping coverage is valuable and important, especially when traveling, because you may be using your smart phone a lot more for navigation, finding things, calling a business for whatever reason...and that is when you really need solid coverage.
Just because you get good coverage at your house, doesn't mean it's the best solution for you.

>"The only thing good about Sprint's CDMA network is the price and unlimited data. But I guess that's why I keep renewing my contract."

You just named two things, not an only thing. Plus it is a MUCH bigger network than T-Mobile, to address the other postings. They also have good customer service and generally an excellent selection of top-notch Android devices.

Sprint's main negative issue has been oversubscription on their 3G network, causing it to be slow in many areas in the past years. They are addressing that with network upgrades (plus LTE, of course) but it can't happen fast enough for many people.

Actually, the best thing about CDMA technology is voice quality and signal penetration.

It may have it's drawbacks nowadays in the era of super fast data networks and such, but for actually using your phone as a phone, CDMA>GSM.

It's the carriers policies too as well as technical aspects of CDMA, this plus slow updates and the resulting smaller phone selection sent me to GSM carrier's. Much happier on GSM, if you've got coverage in your area by AT&T or T-mobile and you love smartphones, Android and updates switch to GSM you'll be much happier. I'm currently on AT&T and love that I can pop my sim into any phone that supports 850/1900 HSPA and ideally 700 Mhz LTE (but that's not strictly required)

My AT&T Galaxy S4 actually can run on t-mobile once my contract is out, the hardware supports AWS HSPA+, it's just one XDA hack away, the difference between the AT&T and T-mobile versions is all software, a locked bootloader (which is already hacked), a software modem which disabled AWS HSPA and a sim lock (which can be disabled easily).
It would be better if I bought an unlocked S4 no doubt but it was immensely cheaper to get it subsidized and all the locks AT&T tried have already been bypassed (cat and mouse) lol.

One day, when they implement VoLTE then we should be able to get phones that will work on all the US carriers. Some pentaband H+ and 700/800/1700/1900/2500 LTE devices. That would work on all US carriers and there are a lot of phones that have pentaband LTE support. They would just need to make sure it connects to the bands the carriers use.

We can already do that without VoLTE. But it would require Sprint and Verizon's cooperation. Just make a multipersonality phone with GSM and CDMA and all the necessary frequencies. It is not rocket science. It is not expensive either. Most of the chipsets already support both, anyway. There is nothing inherently superior about GSM over CDMA technology (or the other way around), they are just different.... and the activations have nothing to do with that technology and everything to do with the way the carrier wants to do it.

If it is not in the interest of the carriers to support something, they won't.

UMTS had huge advantages over EV-DO. GSM also allows separation of phone and network and is interoperable. This is one of the reasons the EU created it and made it mandatory within its borders.

I don't know where you get your data from... GSM is a better system not only for better data transmission but also for security and reliability. CDMA is phasing out even in South Asia.

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Wrong on both counts. As someone earlier in the thread mentioned, this is less about the CDMA technology and more about how it's been implemented. People seem to forget that when Qualcomm introduced CDMA to the world years ago it was a massive improvement over GSM. It was more secure, dramatically more efficient (number of calls that can be carried over a given slice of frequency)and had much higher data speeds. It was a fundamental shift in how digital cell phone technology operates, and no small engineering feat.

So when we argue about CDMA vs GSM, most people are arguing about the CDMA2K implementation - which is what Sprint, Verizon, and other worldwide CDMA operators use. CDMA the air-interface technology lives on. In fact that's what UMTS/HSPA is - at the air-interface level it's good old CDMA. That's why the EU carriers paid huge licensing royalties to Qualcomm.

Now personally I'm a GSM guy for many reasons, but I get annoyed when I see people bashing CDMA when they don't realize that while the CDMA2K brand may have lost the war, CDMA the technology won - and we're all using it today and enjoying the data speeds that it helped bring about.

You're correct Eagle63. But one of the reason that CDMA never went to Europe like the Japanese PHS system was that the Europeans have a mindset that if it's not invented here then it is verboten. CDMA was not allowed to be deployed in Europe. The same mindset that stops US companies trading freely in Europe..

Exactly. I believe the EU actually mandated that only GSM was allowed. The upshot of this was Europe had a pretty expansive and seamless digital network years before the US did. Here in the states the FCC basically said, "may the best technology win". So it was hell for years, but that chaos gave birth to CDMA and we're all better for it.

I don't believe that we are better for it. We did end up with a total network interoperability disaster here in the US becaused of mixed technology use. The FCC also hasn't done us any favors with the way that they've split up and auctioned off wireless spectrum.

In Europe you can buy an unlocked handset and buy a sim from any carrier with a plan to use with it. Because of the extensive use of CDMA2000 in the US, handsets are mostly tied to carriers so we're expected take any device that they dump on consumers and be happy about it. The lack of common network technologies and device interoperability has stiffled competition to a certain extent, both with carriers and phone manufacturers and we end up paying more for both in the end.

Agreed 100%, regardless of motives. standardizing on GSM in Europe lead to a much more competitive and customer friendly cell phone market in Europe. Hopefully when phones start to go LTE only on Verizon we can get more competition in the states.

+1. I think it's about time that phones were "network/band-agnostic." I know that's the promise of LTE, but it's taking a long time. And I'm getting tired of the carrier-contract merry-go-round. Unlimited data kept me on Verizon's network when I renewed my contract in 2012. In 2014, I will be actively looking for a phone without a contract. Hopefully, by then, there will be an LTE phone available without a contract and with a decent data plan. If not, then I will be actively looking for a GSM compatible phone. I would like the option to consider the Google Nexus phone. After what Verizon did to its Nexus phone, I have zero faith that Verizon will know how to manage a true Google experience phone.

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>"As someone earlier in the thread mentioned, this is less about the CDMA technology and more about how it's been implemented."

That was also me.

People have trouble separating specs and designs with implementations and policies.

I would never use these type of locked networks unless significantly cheaper than the GSM ones. Luckily here its only GSM.

Sprint (CDMA) has always been the lowest priced national network (years and years and years). Only recently has T-Mobile started to challenge Sprint's pricing.

And AT&T/T-Mobile are not realistically less "locked" than Sprint or AT&T. They can and do restrict what goes on their network too by what they carry and other policies. Again, it is the implementation of the specs that matters far more than the specs.

I like the fact that gsm phones I could have multiple phones and switch out the sim cards. Help me out greatly when a phone wasnt acting right

You can.

Swap the SIM card (if it is an LTE phone) and call a 1-800 number... then press 1.

If it is an older phone with no LTE SIM card, just call the 1-800 number.

-Suntan

You don't need to call a number for an LTE phone. I have a Galaxy Nexus and a ThunderBolt on Verizon and, with a micro SIM to mini SIM adapter, I can swap service from one phone to the other.

Every time devices like these come out for GSM carriers all the CDMA people whine and bitch about how they can't get them. 90% of the world uses GSM! If all of you Sprint and VZW subscribers care THAT much about pure Google experience devices then you already know what you need to do. Besides, VZW royally screwed up the Galaxy Nexus so its really beyond me why any of you would want to see that happen again.

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maybe because we want a phone with a large dev community, and still on the most superior carrier(Verizon) with unlimted LTE(grandfathered)

Honestly I hope Verizon gets it instead of Sprint. I have been a Sprint customer for about 5 years now, on an account that's been around for 15. The biggest problem I've been seeing lately is network bandwidth. There wouldn't be such a problem if it wasn't literally unlimited. You ever notice you *usually* get pretty good speeds on all the other networks (depending on other factors of course)? It's because there's not always someone using every kilobyte possible of mobile network bandwidth because they have to watch out for their limits.

I tested this fact when I first heard about the truly unlimited by using 90GB... that's right, GB, over the course of 3 months, over 3G and 4G_WiMax (This was before Sprint's LTE days)... Bittorrenting, netflixing, downloading porn, everything possible, and I didn't even get a letter... was never throttled, nothing. They don't care! I mean apparently they limit the top 5% of users on their network based on thresholds, but whatever. Now I use less than a gig a month because it's excruciatingly painful to download stuff unless I'm under an LTE tower.

Limits would be the best thing for this network. I just hope they are high. Like 15GB/month or something. This 1, 3 and 5GB crap must suck for all the other networks unless you have Wifi at your most frequently visited location or home.

Anyway, MY POINT IS that having Google and Developer editions of these phones means they're definitely going to be rooted and given access to a myriad of tethering apps, draining that precious network bandwidth. At least with Verizon, you have to watch the data and leave some for everyone else.

I doubt you'll see another "Google Play Edition" phone on a CDMA carrier. This goes right back to when the Galaxy Nexus was launched on Sprint and Verizon, and how the upgrade paths were a nightmare for new releases.

The biggest problem is that CDMA carriers like Verzion, Sprint, and U.S. Cellular have to verify functionality on their network. If a particular feature on the phone doesn't work, then Mr. Any-old-customer WILL go to the store and complain. So, as a result of that, they have to rigorously test all functionality. This includes software releases. Even if 4.1 on a phone is fully functional (data, E911, SMS, MMS, etc.) and the manufacturer launches 4.2, it goes right back through the FULL testing regimen before being pushed to the devices. As you know, full testing is time consuming and expensive. Why do that with a device that you're only going to make money on for a short period of time, and waste all of those resources on an old phone by the third or fourth software iteration?

TLDR; CDMA carriers will not let Google control the software releases on their phones. This is why carriers get pissed off when you root / ROM your devices. At that point, they have to help you with your warranty, but you're running an untested version of software, so they'll immediately blame you. If Google pushes a version to the CDMA phones, and something breaks, the carrier pays for it. They certainly won't let that fly.

In a BYOD world with AT&T and T-Mobile, the carrier can offload responsibility for the device to the user, much like in some situations with Apple, where the carriers can offload responsibility for the device to the user and to Apple, because of their iTunes software. Apple just has a dictatorship over their devices, and won't let the carriers handle the software. It has to just be part of the agreement with the carrier. Apple controls hardware AND software. The carrier just sells it. It's a unique situation compared to what we normally see with other MFG's, but whatever.

Personally, I don't like the idea of Google Play edition phones on CDMA, because as I said above, too much in politics and BS. Buy the device from Google, run it on Tmo or ATT, and be happy.

I have a Nexus 4 on ATT, and I couldn't be happier. I hold ATT accountable for the service, and myself / Google for the phone itself. It's an understanding.

>"CDMA carriers will not let Google control the software releases on their phones."

And yet Apple manages all their own software on both Sprint and Verizon...

>"CDMA carriers will not let Google control the software releases on their phones."

ROFL LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL

So much wrong in that sentence it isn't even funny. 19 yrs dealing with Crap GSM and Crap CDMA (let's face it, both technologies suck ass, GSM is just more widely used except for the Asian and US markets which have very large CDMA network penetration) and before that analog/FDMA and TDMA.

Carriers offer "additions" on both platforms, Apple/iOS restricts preload, lets carriers submit stuff that is carrier specific to the app store.

Google/Android is ok with it already loaded and then offers more in Google Play. Sprint offers many of those with a delete button except the bare essentials (acct lookup apps).

This is a very popular myth. Don't think for a single minute that Verizon, AT&T and Sprint alike aren't involved in the approval and testing process of the software updates for Apple's phones. Apple has clout here, but the carrier's don't just hand them the keys to their network without being involved.

Agreed. But the point is- if Apple can control their own updates (with carrier involvement) then so can Google.... regardless of the network.

For what its worth, Sprint doesn't care if you root/ROM your phone. It explicitly states in their employee handbook about if they have insurance, or the extended warranty, service their device just the same. It doesn't say anything about refusing service to rooted/ROM'd devices. While your point is very valid, do not lump Rooting/Rom-ing into the argument. CDMA carriers are far more picky about their devices, and the technology simply does not yet exist where they feel comfortable letting you BYOD. You are 100% right about them wanting control over their devices. Maybe once LTE is more widespread between the CDMA and GSM carriers we will finally see an intermingling. I personally can't wait!

I've always found GSM phones more convenient due o the fact that if you buy a new phone or have multiple phones and one isn't working right, you simply swap the SIM. With CDMA, you'd have to call Verizon/Sprint, have them do it (which is usually a pain in the ass) and then you still have to wait a couple hours for the phone to actually activate.

I test phones on CDMA about every 3 weeks, I've made 0 calls. There are ESN change websites for CDMA on each carriers main pages when logged into your acct.

Activation time less than 1-3 mins for voice, anywhere from 5 to 10 for data.

Not very PITA to me.

Again, it is the implementation, not the technology. CMDA phones could just as easily use SIM cards if the carriers wanted that to happen.

And activations can be done easily over the device, itself, if the carriers allowed it.
You can also activate on the web, and in no case does it take hours of waiting. Longest I ever waited was about 10 minutes, I think.

I've been thinking about this more and more, and I truly believe that Google IS tired of Verizon giving them a bad name. I think the way Verizon does business is a major reason why Google someday will become their own carrier, as not to have to walk on egg shells with companies like Verizon.

Great write up:) Small note, saying these phones will only get 2G on T-Mo and maybe 3G in refarmed areas is a tad misleading since it will also get LTE in those areas where T-Mo has deployed it. I realize that's a small nuance but as someone who lives in a T-Mo LTE area and uses an unlocked One, the nuance is rather important ;)

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Does anyone know how to get that agenda screen on the HTC One? It would be great to have that on my One.

IRONIC! I was just in the HTC Kiosk, booth, whatever, in Northpoint mall here in Atlanta the other day. Me and the guys there spent a good 30 minutes talking honestly (not consumer to salesmen) about the one. One of the major things we thought about was the Google One, and if he could bring it to Verizon. We decided it wouldn't be worth it, at best only LTE would work if they even accept it. But this sums it up. Sidenote: working for HTC has its perks guy has 3 working DNAs plus his personal DNA a first and a One.