Android Central

Ed. Note: This story was updated several times on Nov. 23, 2012, in the wake of the news that the Nexus 4 indeed can receive LTE data on Band 4, otherwise known as AWS. The original updates to this story (and a temporary change to the headline) altered the text more than they should have. While it's still arguable as to the ramifications of this LTE discovery, we should not have re-edited the text. We have since restored this post in its entirety, which you can read below. - Phil

 

It takes more than a chip to enable 4G connectivity

Ever since a recent iFixit teardown revealed the presence of a Qualcomm WTR1605L 4G LTE-capable radio chip in the Nexus 4, there's been a lot of speculation as to what it might mean. Conventional wisdom suggests that LG wouldn't just include extraneous silicon in the device unless it was planning to use it for something.

That's led some to believe that the current Nexus 4, a device advertised with HSPA+ connectivity, might actually be hiding LTE support to be unlocked in a future software update. Or maybe it could be possible to root the Nexus 4 and, you know, use mad hacking skills or something to unlock LTE on the device.

All of those things are wrong.

First, let's look at why the Nexus 4 might include a radio chip with features it's not using. As was reported in the run up to the Nexus 4's announcement, at a hardware level the Nexus 4 is basically an Optimus G. That device does support LTE -- many flavors of it, in fact. Given the economies of scale involved in mass-manufacturing smartphones, it's likely that it'd work out cheaper for LG to manufacture similar or identical boards for both phones than it would to design and create a separate non-LTE PCB for the Nexus alone.

What this also means is that a future Nexus 4 model might well support LTE, and that the presence of this chip in existing designs might make this easier to achieve in some future LTE-enabled Nexus (not to mention easier to manufacture alongside the HSPA+ version). We've discussed this possibility on a recent Android Central podcast, and come to the conclusion that it's highly likely that an LTE Nexus 4 might appear at some point next year. If such a phone was in the works, it'd make sense from a manufacturing standpoint that there might be some hardware crossover.

But it doesn't mean you'll be able to simply unlock this dormant LTE capability for use on your existing Nexus 4. Sure, Nexus devices are among the most hacker-friendly smartphones around, but it takes more than a chip and a bit of software hackery to enable 4G connectivity. In order to take advantage of LTE on commonly-used U.S. and European bands, your Nexus 4 would need a fresh bundle of antennae within the chassis (which FCC filings reveal the phone lacks). It'd also need specially designed radio firmware (proprietary, closed-source stuff) and redesigned power management systems to manage the additional juice needed to run LTE.

That's way, way more than can be achieved through rooting and hacking a Nexus. The closest anyone's ever come to this is with the AT&T Galaxy Note, where hackers managed to enable 1700MHz T-Mobile HSPA support by flashing radio firmware from another phone. That's a world away from what would be required to successfully use the Nexus 4's LTE chip.

And let's not forget that the current Nexus 4 model isn't certified for use on LTE bands in the United States. So even if it were somehow possible to modify the phone to run on LTE networks, using such a device in the U.S. would be illegal.

Then there's the fact that if Google was able to create an unlocked LTE and HSPA+ phone for this price, there's no way they'd lock out LTE support. If all the necessary LTE hardware was in place in the existing Nexus 4, you can bet your ass Google would already be using it -- and that it would've sold out even more quickly.

Bottom line: Your HSPA+ Nexus 4 is still a HSPA+ Nexus 4 -- a single chip doesn't change that. There's a chance we might see a full 4G LTE support on a future Nexus 4 model, but it'll take more than software to get us there.

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Reader comments

No, your Nexus 4 won't magically grow LTE support (updated Nov. 23)

41 Comments

In a nutshell, This will be exactly like the Galaxy Nexus. There is the GSM HSPA version, and the Sprint/Verizon LTE version... Except that maybe with the internals so much closer matched, the updates for LTE will come quicker.

You forgot they reported this as a world lte chip. Meaning any country/carrier supporting lte can run this chip if the internals where in it. So next year here in USA we could have a sprint, vzw, att, and tmo lte nexus 4. How awesome would that be?

I'd say the delays on CDMA Galaxy Nexuses was due to their being carrier-locked models, not as much the hardware. Carrier testing usually adds a few weeks, at a minimum.

Updates for CDMA carriers NEVER come sooner. GSM carriers get them as soon as Google releases the updates. Get your facts right.

they mean quicker in the sense that it might only be a few weeks, not months.

There is hope for those needing/wanting LTE support. All is not lost and hopefully if not a Nexus device maybe a With Google device instead.

How about the converse? Can you take the nexus ROM and add the LTE modem and flash it onto the Op G? Same hardware other than the LTE chip, right?

Lot people think that phones are only made of chips, but in order for any integrated circut to work there needed application (not software application, but IC application).

Thru i belive it's possible to hack it if it's Optimus G board and if antenna trully missing... it can be added ;] but it's little invasive. Might make Nexus 4 interesting product :p

Is this fact or an editorial?

Because:
a) It's not "a LTE chip", it's the main radio, that does GSM, UMTS _and_ LTE. As such, it is wired up just fine, but LTE disabled in software.
b) The Avago amplifier does UMTS _and_ LTE on band 1 and 5, which are 2100Mhz and 850Mhz respectively. So there's no need for separate antennas.

Edited to clarify what we're talking about.

Even if that were possible, LTE on 850 or 2100 won't get you anywhere in the US, Canada, Australia or Europe, which are Google's primary markets for the N4. The only country that uses those bands is South Korea, I believe.

Bookmarking this topic so I can hand AC a hot towel to wipe the egg off their collective faces when an ota pushes lte for at least some carriers.

First of all, you're mixing Antennas with Amps. Amps could support LTE bands, but you need MIMO antenna setup for LTE. MIMO comes mandatory with LTE Category 2 and up. There is no MIMO setup in Nexus 4, whatsoever so baseband doesn't even look for LTE.

Second, there is a difference between baseband chipset (Qualcomm MDM9215) and a Transceiver (Qualcomm WTR1605L). Together they are known as "Fusion 3" which is Qualcomm's latest solution.

"LTE Chip" means nothing unless it's your favorite potato chips I'm not aware of.

And finally, if a device has LTE capable transceiver and baseband chipset, it doesn't mean it has to support LTE. Those chipsets also support anything from GSM, CDMA, HSPA, EVDO, pretty much every standard known. But if you don't have all the necessary hardware requirements in your User Equipment, you can't magically "unlock" LTE. Period.

LTE has to be the worst gimmick ive seen. This technology is hit or miss. At the cost major battery life your getting maybe 5-6 extra mbps. Not worth it. The cost and not to mention when it comes to updates LTE enable phones (Verizon) are the last to get updates due to the "security" testing it has to go through. Galaxy Nexus just got 4.1 bout 2 months ago and the SIII is still waiting while all the other carriers have updated there phones. LTE is just a fancy name for HSPA+ Your paying for that at a premium cost. Just my opinion.

This is not correct from a technical standpoint at all. LTE and HSPA+ are completely different standards using different technology. Sprint's S3 was the first to get updated ahead of even T-Mobile's HSPA+ so you're incorrect there. Have you tried a modern LTE device? I get almost a day on LTE with the S3, plus speeds of around 20-30 MBps down about 4-6 Times the speed of my Uverse internet at home. Maybe you have had a bad experience on the most expensive and least customer friendly of the carriers.

Careful, it's post like this that lure the richardyarrel, and honestly that's the last thing we need.

I Really dont count Sprints LTE network yet. The only LTE device i would like is a MIFI. Maybe im wrong. Im in the DC area and i guess because the network here is saturated i prefer Tmobile's network. Yes the bad experience was with verizon and it was a company phone.

Mileage on any technology like this is going to vary from person to person. It *is* also noteworthy however that LTE has a *much* lower latency compared to HSPA, even when you're not seeing the actual higher download speeds.

Where HSPA typically has a latency of about 180-250ms with a strong signal, LTE is closer to the 60-80ms end of the scale (which is about what you'll get on your home internet). This mean things like browsing your music library on Google Play Music, or the file list on your DropBox app will be *much* more responsive since these activities don't require a huge amount of bandwidth, but will give a much better user experience when the relatively small data packet is able to make the round trip to the server and back faster. Lower latency can also go a long way towards making streaming video buffer "faster" (or at least seem to).

I think the point everyone is missing is that Google would need to release this as an unlocked LTE device in the Play store. Since Verizon LTE phones are SIM friendly, it's just a matter of popping your Verizon SIM into your shiny new Nexus 4.. or am I wrong?

This would enable Google to directly control the device updates just like it does on the HSPA+ Galaxy Nexus. Verizon would basically be cut out of the loop.

Still, there must be something going on here because Google could have easily simply upped the cost of the LTE version by $50 to cover the extra cost of the LTE radio. I'm sure plenty of people would have been willing to pay $399 for an LTE Nexus 4 16GB. I've got to think that Google still has friends in high places at Verizon and is leery of side-stepping them despite Verizon's their micromanaging ways.

But then again Google could have made a Sprint LTE version in the meantime.. wtf.. this is like a damn soap opera!!

I'll bet that you can stick that SIM into a new phone and nothing will happen. Maybe you could dial 911. If we live in a world where Verizon made everything that easy, I'm going to have to re-think my take on Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy.

Yes you are correct. I asked this in the Nexus 4 forum today and the consensus is that the phone would not work unless Verizon approved it to work.

Although Apple seems to have zero problems selling the Verizon LTE iPhone from Apple stores.... and updating it at will.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but Verizon still doesn't support Voice Over LTE. So to use the phone as a phone, the Verizon compatible Nexus 4 would still need CDMA radios, and isn't that kinda proprietary with Verizon and hence would pose a problem?

I believe you are correct. And is why LTE phones are getting the rep for battery hogs. You have to run two radios, LTE for data, GSM/CDMA for voice.

Not everyone complaining about LTE battery life is running CDMA phones, and not every carrier pushes voice off of LTE.

Extra cost of the LTE radio?
The same radio handles GSM.
And you have no clue about the price of that chip.

eff you verizon, for ruining ur relationship with Google and us not having a new Nexus!!

Poor Gizmodo. They just don't understand technology outside of what Apple feeds them.

Let's put the G's antenna, flash the G's radio, add some hacker testing and soon you will have somebody selling the service to illegaly convert your Nexus 4 into a Lamborghini

Personally I think this topic is going to lead to a lot of Bricked Nexii being sent back to Google. T-Mobile's speed has done just fine with me, Ive even tethered it to my Smart Tv and watched whole movies streaming on Netflix with no lag at all. Yes the theoretical speeds of LTE would be nice to have, but then again I dont want to be capped and pay a premium price for "faster" speed on my phone, when the speed it has now suits me with no complaints. Although tethering on netflix so much did lead T-mobile to throttle my speeds, but that was overuse on my part, our WiFi network was down and I over did it.

I can see maybe Sprint, T-Mobile and AT&T getting a LTE version eventually so they can lock you into contract but I doubt Verizon will ever go Nexus again, I think it has been too much a pain in Verizon and Google's arse to justify it.. this is coming from a Verizon Galaxy Nexus owner. Verizon not only adds their 2 apps but they also have the longest testing cycle of any of the carriers so no matter how close the hardware is it will always take at least 3-4 months for Verizon to push the update.. also they will always push their DROID phones above the Nexus cause they not only pay to use that name but also pay to advertise the heck out of them cause they make more money from a DROID. I am personally fine with it being HSPA+ only and will be switching to a N4 as soon as I can and seeing people posting their speed tests the last day or 2 only supports that decision, yes LTE is great but the HSPA+ speeds are comparable and nothing to complain about and the battery benefits out weigh the cons.

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