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Google Nexus 4: Why No LTE?

Oct 31, 2012 (05:10 AM EDT)

Read the Original Article at http://www.informationweek.com/news/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=240012584


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The Nexus 4 is Google's development testbed smartphone for the next year. Android smartphones bearing the Nexus name typically offer top-of-the-line specs. The Nexus 4 is certainly an impressive device, but one of the most important specs isn't included: support for LTE 4G networks.

LTE 4G is a must-have feature for many smartphone shoppers. Instead, the Nexus 4 supports the fasest version of HSPA+ -- which is considered to be 4G by some carriers -- at 42Mbps. Why would Google leave this feature out?

Android lead Andy Rubin told The Verge that leaving out LTE 4G was a "tactical issue," explaining that 4G hasn't been rolled out widely enough yet to warrant including it. That's a weak-sauce answer, and I'll tell you why.

For starters, the Nexus 4 is based on the LG Optimus G. The Optimus G is already sold by AT&T and Sprint in the U.S. -- and supports both carriers' LTE 4G networks. In other words, the feature was removed for the Nexus.

Second, LTE is abundantly available, at least in the U.S. Verizon's LTE 4G network is available in 400 markets, AT&T's is on track to reach 100 markets by the end of the year, and even Sprint's is getting off the ground. MetroPCS and and Cricket Wireless also offer LTE, although in much more limited capacity.

[ How does Google's new tablet stack up? Read iPad Mini Vs. Nexus 7: Tablet Smackdown. ]

Third, past Nexus devices supported the most limited 4G network technology out there: The Nexus S, which was the 2010-era Nexus Android smartphone, could be used on Sprint's now-defunct WiMax network. WiMax is a certifiable failure; LTE won't be. This alone negates the validity of Rubin's comments.

However, there are complicated issues when it comes to LTE that are worth pointing out. In the U.S., LTE is being operated on a half dozen different frequencies. Verizon and AT&T use 700MHz (but not the same 700MHZ), Sprint uses 1900MHz for now, but will eventually transition to 1900MHz and 2.5GHz. T-Mobile's forthcoming LTE network will operate in the 1700MHz AWS band. The LTE situation is far worse in Europe.

When viewed from this angle, it makes a lot more sense that Google decided to stick with technology -- and spectrum bands -- that are widely used the world over. HSPA+ should be fast enough for most people most of the time.

Still, the Nexus 4's lack of LTE makes me cranky.

The Nexus 4 will e available for purchase directly from the Google Play Store beginning Nov. 13. The 8 GB version costs $299 and the 16 GB version costs $349. These aggressive prices for an unlocked smartphone are made possible in part thanks to the lack of LTE 4G, which adds to the bill of materials.

There will always be trade-offs.

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