Nov 5, 2012
The Nexus 4 has one glaring omission from its otherwise-impressive list of specs: no LTE. After all, the iPhone 5 has it, so why shouldn’t Google’s flagship Nexus phone have it, especially after the iPhone 5, which arrives fashionably late to cellular network technology, had already made the jump? Well, blame the current state of the carriers in the US.
Thanks to the CDMA and GSM protocols, and the different frequencies that even GSM carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile use, interoperability is difficult to cram into one phone model. LTE makes it even harder with many new frequencies to communicate on for each carrier. There’s no LTE equivalent for something like the iPhone, which supports the 1900 Mhz GSM band, to work on T-Mobile, for example. The best way to get LTE support is to work with the carriers, which Google is largely opposed to after bad experiences with Verizon and Sprint with the LTE-enabled Galaxy Nexus. They want to release new versions of Android immediately; the carriers want them tested and probably don’t even want phones to really be updated for too long, after all, if someone is satisfied with their current phone, what reason will they have to buy a new one?
The US market is just not used to unlocked phones yet, in part because Sprint and Verizon make it difficult to use said phones on their network, and the 2-year-contract model is a stopping point on GSM networks. T-Mobile, however, is likely a big driver of this phone. After all, the beauty of buying a phone unlocked is that it can be used on cheaper pre-paid plans, and T-Mobile has some of the most exhaustive pre-paid options, including the fabled $30 plan that offers only 100 minutes, but unlimited messaging and 5 GB of 4G data. That will likely be a big seller for the Nexus 4.
Of course, they’re selling it as a contracted option as well, at $199 on a 2-year agreement, which is silly considering the phone is $349 unlocked! However, for those looking to buy it with HSPA+ 42 on T-Mobile, that’s the only option, is to go directly through them. Why they’re not selling the phone as a driver for their prepaid plans, the only real reason for T-Mobile to still exist at this point, is unknown.
Now, is the lack of LTE something that Google should get a free pass on? No, it is a lacking feature considering that it’s becoming standard in high-end phones. But Google’s doing something different here. They’re selling a phone directly to consumers for $349, no contract. This is something that hasn’t really been tried with a flagship smartphone. If the market is going to change to be more friendly to unlocked phones, there first needs to be a demand for them, and that appears to be what Google is doing with the Nexus 4. LTE and CDMA appear to be the sacrifices to make this sea change happen.