Nexus 4 ‘features’ no 4G LTE support, Google sort of explains why

by: Chris SmithOctober 29, 2012

Google Wireless Charging Orb

Android fans following the Nexus news today know that Google has unveiled a bunch of new products, all ready to run Android 4.2 Jelly Bean right out of the box, including the LG Nexus 4, the Samsung Nexus 10 and the Asus Nexus 7 (32GB Wi-Fi and 32GB Wi-Fi+3G version).

Now that we have specs and features for all these devices, we can’t but wonder why the new flagship Google Nexus smartphone lacks 4G LTE support, which is becoming almost a must-have feature on new smartphones and tablets, even though 4G LTE adoption is still limited, with a larger footprint available in the U.S. where major carriers have started deploying the next-gen communication technology way ahead of their international counterparts. Moreover, Android handsets are all the more expected to support LTE, especially high-end ones such as the Nexus 4, because the first LTE handsets released by Verizon in the first months of 2011 where Android-powered ones.

Fast forward to more than a year later and even the iPhone 5, launched just over a month ago, comes with 4G LTE support for various markets, including U.S. carriers but also international mobile operators.

So why isn’t the Nexus 4 featuring LTE? In short, it’s the carrier’s fault, or better said, Google’s need to make the device available in as many markets as soon as possible, without having to compromise with mobile operators on availability dates or future Android OS updates.

As The Verge explains, Google preferred to make the Nexus 4 HSPA+ ready, and thus capable to operate on most cellular networks, instead of having to deal with carriers, such as AT&T and Verizon in the USA, to create LTE versions of it. Among the drawbacks, launch delays have been quoted, but also the carriers’ requirement to control Android updates, with Verizon being a prime example in that particular topic – the Verizon Galaxy Nexus Android 4.1 Jelly Bean update took more than three months to arrive.

Is this a step backwards for the Nexus 4 at a time when its rivals are coming with LTE support? Yes and no.

Yes, because 4G LTE is the way to go for smartphones and tablets, no matter what OS they run.

But since LTE has a limited footprint, globally speaking, and since it’s pretty expensive too, users won’t necessarily complain about the lack of 4G LTE support right away. Hopefully future Nexus generations will not lack real 4G speeds. Not to mention that selling the handset unlocked, for an affordable price, could help Google convert more users to Nexus devices, and improve the timeliness of its Android updates, thus partly solving one of Android’s problems, fragmentation.

Google’s Android chief tried to explain the decision of not including an LTE chip in the Nexus 4 by mentioning battery life and costs concerns, but the fact is that some of those reasons better apply to 2011 devices rather than fresh new smartphones and tablets, so we have to call bullshit where bullshit is being served to us:

Android head Andy Rubin calls the lack of LTE a “tactical issue,” and cites cost and battery life as major concerns with devices that have to support multiple radios. “A lot of the networks that have deployed LTE haven’t scaled completely yet — they’re hybrid networks […] which means the devices need both radios built into them,” he said. “When we did the Galaxy Nexus with LTE we had to do just that, and it just wasn’t a great user experience.” But the reality now is that many LTE devices — including the iPhone 5 and the LG Optimus G, which shares common hardware with the Nexus 4 — use larger batteries and newer, more efficient chips to balance the power draw from LTE.


Andy Rubin put it this way: “Tactically, we want to make sure the devices are available for every network on the planet.” For now, that means that the Nexus 4 will only be available as an unlocked HSPA+ device. Whether the fault lies more with carriers for forcing Google’s hand or with Google for refusing to work within the standard carrier model, the end result is a flagship phone that’s missing an essential flagship feature.

It’s pretty clear that unlike Apple, Google doesn’t have the upper hand in negotiations with carriers, at least not yet. But hopefully that will change in the future, otherwise Google will have no choice but to give in to (some of) their demands. As for carriers, they can afford not to have the latest Nexus smartphone in stock but still offer plenty of carrier-customized Android devices to interested consumers. In fact, one U.S. Apple vs Samsung trial reveals that Galaxy Nexus sales in the USA have been minimal, and therefore the device didn’t really pose a threat to the iPhone – that’s actually part of the Samsung defense against Apple’s injunction request. That’s the downside of Android being an open source mobile operating system, when dealing with carriers and their needs. And for the sake of the discussion, the same mobile operators can’t afford not to sell the iPhone, while simultaneously complaining about the huge iPhone subsidies.

Let’s hear from potential Nexus 4 buyers! Is the lack of 4G LTE connectivity a deal breaker for you?

  • I would buy it… In a blink of an eye… IF IT WERE AVAILABLE IN MY COUNTRY! :/

    Now I have to find someone who is traveling to a country where google makes direct sales and bribe that person to bring “the stash” to me…

  • John Lin

    It’s not a deal breaker, but it is a sticking point. I hesitate. I don’t care about the carriers. Put the chip in, and support it in software. I’ll deal with the carriers. Why can’t they use the same setup as the Galaxy Nexus?

  • Doan

    This would be a deal-breaker for me, but I wasn’t planning on getting a new phone anyway.

  • Joshua

    YES this is an epic fail 4G is the standard it was last year dinosaur phones dont have 4G LTE heck even apple can make an iphone with it now, I would never even consider this

    • Dalbir_Singh

      Not everybody, such as me, cares about LTE. For the price, this looks like a GREAT value. I’ll wait until the review are out but I’m still excited.

  • tBs_Battousai

    LTE would have been nice so I could use it on the UK’s first 4g network but it’s not as big a deal here in the UK as it is over in the US…

  • William Hickman

    Since I have not LTE coverage anywhere around me for ATT, it doesn’t really matter to me that much. However, if I did have coverage, it might be a consideration

  • sease15

    Tough call. Verizon LTE devices have major issues when it comes to radio switching. Sometimes I do like the idea of 3g reliability vs the radio switch issues. 4g is great but I am also connected to WiFi most of the time. Especially when it comes to Downloading large files which is when 4G would really count.

  • richard

    What Standardization?

    4G=LTE-Advanced Revision 10 or Higher. per the ITU.

    LTE Revision 9 and lower is still 3G but spin doctor Carriers are calling it 4G
    It is the need to support multiple radio types in phones especially to support LTE (rev 8or9) that sucks battery power. This is true especially for verizon or any CDMA network now “supporting” LTE. e.g. Oversized battery needed in RAZR MAXX HD phone sold by verizon. What is currently sold as LTE is not compatible across carriers unless phones are multi-radio and thus power pigs. This has just become a spin on how to achieve carrier customer lock-in. What is the point of having an unlocked phone with all these North American carrier barriers.
    In the end ask yourself what do you really need LTE for? If you don’t save your money.

  • gzd

    in Europe LTE is still too far… thanks google 4 keeping the prices as low as possible

  • sean

    Don’t really care about LTE at all. Currently using a HTC Desire HD, and the network connection is just fine. Will be buying the Nexus 4 the first day it comes out. $350 you would have to be crazy to buy anything else.

  • michael

    This is definitely a deal breaker for me, a Verizon customer. I understand their reasoning behind it, but it’ll be very hard for them to compete with other high-end phones in the States that do have LTE.

  • Pouyan Motamedi

    So much of a deal-breaker. It looks all good except for this very sad drawback. Will wait to see if LTE versions start to come out in the upcoming months.

  • Long story short, not everything is centered around USA. There is still not enough 4G LTE coverage around the world (NOT ONLY USA). For most of the world, 4G LTE is not needed (because it isn’t provided by carriers) and it would only raise the price.

  • Jered

    Does anyone know if this uses a micro-SIM or just a regular SIM?

  • gery

    Who needs LTE anyway? Most of my download go over WiFi anyway why pay more for something that you really don’t use that much. I am happy that it doesn’t have LTE

  • ren uk

    WHAT WERE THEY THINKING – 4G ALL THE WAY! Next month another phone will come out with 4g and lets face it if you have the choice to 4g or not to 4g ? I know where i would spend my money.. such a silly move. Flag ship? More like abandon ship!

  • Bruce Gavin Ward

    “It’s pretty clear that … Google doesn’t have the upper hand in negotiations with carriers, at least not yet.” read between the newly laid down Google lines; if you won’t give us control over timely updates, and a more ‘even’ device user experience, then we are not going to hand you LTE in our flagship devices for you to make a lot of dataDollars from!! [pretty smart, if you ask me; and you did.]

    • On a Clear Day

      Very interesting perspective Bruce. If true though, Google has by doing so chosen to follow the “cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face” way of doing things.

      I would not buy this phone and I know a number of my friends who are looking for the features I listed in my earlier post here who also wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole.

      So, if that was Google’s reasoning; and their goal is to spite the carriers by denying them added profits, then they have succeeded, but also succeeded in probably making the sales of this phone as anemic as the previous Nexus phones.

      That, to me, would suggest that they ain’t too smart! SMS

      (And, by the way, I am not trying to be critical; just having a bit of fun.)

  • tzfardaya

    currently have a galaxy s3 with lte functionality, I find with an lte phone I don’t switch to my wifi network when I get home since the speeds I connect at are comparable either way…

    But is the lack of lte on the nexus a sticking point for me? not at all, hdspa+ speeds here are more than enough for my day to day usage on the road, wifi when I get home…
    The (apparent) lack of 5gzh wifi (802.11a/n) is more of a concern for me at the moment. Also, From the write ups I’ve found today, I’m not able to tell if it’s a sealed phone or if the battery is removable… a sealed phone would be a sticking point for me. I prefer to be able to pack a second battery for a quick swap if I need. The lack of a micro-sdcard port is more of a sticking point. I know that Google is pushing to move all your data to the cloud, but most of their cloud apps are very US-centric right now… Good thing my phone isn’t always my portable music player….

    No matter, Given my experience with the Galaxy Nexus, I will definitely be getting this one, I only got the s3 to replace my GNex after it broke.

    • I assume it is not a sealed unit as it is SIM free.

      • Tzfardaya

        Check again, it has a sim tray, which generally means a sealed body/non-swappable battery (without tools at least)….

  • ricktodd44

    same people that brag about s3 having 4g LTE before the iphone, are now saying meh, its no big deal that this new nexus doesnt have it. what a huge step back.

  • On a Clear Day

    Too bad. I was – until I found out about the lack of LTE capability and micro SD card – and possibly – yet to be confirmed a sealed battery seriously interested in this phone.
    I want want a phone that:

    A. Is unlocked – so that I can choose my carrier (in that I would be less likely to go with a contract than Job would be to ask for a second set of boils).

    B. That has all the specs – RAM, ROM, etc. that more or less that this Nexus has.

    C. Jellybean and with Nexus easy updateability to evolving versions of Android.

    D. And, the necessary power and tech built it to not be obsolete in six months.

    Oh well, they say anticipation is half the fun, guess I’ll have to keep on “having fun” anticipating and hoping someone will use their head and get it right!

  • I hate Apple, but I won’t buy the Nexus or Surface right now because I’m not going to spend one dime on a portable device and not be able to have a data link.

    If I want to be tethered, I’ll just use my computer.

  • LTE is still a mess, even in the States. I applaud Google for taking the right decision to leave it out and give the phone to us at a much lower price point. Personally, I see no need for LTE because the benefits don’t outweigh the battery consumption at the moment since LTE is still a very nascent technology. Until LTE is fully standardized, it’s best if Google doesn’t jump into the fray (everyone’s on their own band and there’s a huge lack in interoperability especially since a lot of American LTE providers are still reliant on the archaeic CDMA technology while internationally many carriers are dropping CDMA for GSM even with their LTE implementations).

  • Lee

    Why not a Nexus 4 WIFI to compete with the ipod touch??

  • regbs

    Good on ya for calling a spade a spade, and bs bs, Chris Smith!

    F that and Google too. Nexus is really meaningless thanks for Google’s limp wristedness and Verizon’s typical assholishness. The implicit promise of nexus was to give the nexus-line priority, but that hasn’t been the case with my Verizon Samsung Galaxy Nexus LTE. It’s absurd that Google should regress the whole line because centralized control freaks elsewhere mandated the wrong technology and, surprise surprise, found themselves once again outmaneuvered by nimble, innovative, responsive market forces. Have to laugh as South Korea picked the wrong standard, North Korea (the Left’s dream model) doesn’t even have cell service, and Europe and the UK are a long way from saturation. Hell, UK doesn’t even have the service outside some BBC demos for one reporter. Way to go, Ofcom.

    My Galaxy Nexus has yet to see 4.1.2. I’ve had to get rooted developer builds for any innovation like Google Wallet and Jelly Bean. This is driving me to give iPhone a chance. Lack of 4G was the whole reason I passed on iPhone in the first place.

    Great to see Google matching Apple in completely dumbass mistakes. Gee, now I can get a cutting edge device that regresses back one full generation. How about a non-touch screen brick phone like the 80s? Insert Andy Rubin quote on why that would be better for battery life.

  • radiospotz

    Yes it is a major deal breaker, the huge difference in speed dictates 4g lte is the present and future. I have been putting off upgrading in anticipation of this google nexus 4. Why would I spend so much cash on a phone made for the past? I guess samsung has got my cash.

  • DonSerrot

    I currently live in an area lacking LTE, I only get 3G. Maybe I haven’t been spoiled on LTE yet (even though I do have a VZW Galaxy Nexus) but honestly, I’m sick and tired of Verizon. Even if I was taking a huge step down I’d still be more than happy to do so just to be done with them. Verizon can keep their LTE for all I care, cause I’m done with them and moving on to a true Nexus phone.

  • Rob

    I like everything about this phone besides the fact that it does not support 4G LTE I will not be purchasing it because of this one feature o can understand wanting to make it available to multiple markets but you have to give the large portion of your market what they/we want and its 4G Google really dropped the ball on that. SMH.

  • mk3s

    I’ve owned an iPhone since the 3G came out upgrading to the 4 and now I was actually looking at making a switch to the Nexus. My brother has the verizon LTE version of the previous nexus and loves it. I’ve never had 4G on a phone but from what I’ve heard it makes a huge difference. The new iPhone has 4G and for now I am still grandfathered into my old 3G’s unlimited data plan. So my choice is between an unlimited 4G data powered iPhone 5 that is unfortunately a little underwhelming or the exciting switch to the new Nexus that seems underpowered. Decisions decisions…

  • sam

    huge step back. big deal breaker i was getting ready to buy three of these 16gb phones for the family but not now…Im a huge android/ google lover

  • Shawn Kovac

    no 4G support made no difference to me. i ‘bought’ a Samsung Galaxy Nexus (with Sprint) and i like it a lot. it’s a lot faster than my last phone! haha. i don’t care about getting the latest edge in technology, and i finally got a smart phone. it’s my first smart phone, and i like it so much. Thank you, Google! The NFC needs to be refined but I trust that will come with OS updates. (by ‘bought’, it was ‘free’ with a new 2 year contract. that delights my wife and I! free phone AND a good, open-source OS provided by Google. why people want to pay hundreds of dollars to Apple when the open source market holds *very* strong competition is a bewilderment to me. marketing and ‘the cool people have to pay for their luxuries’ when us ‘uncool’ ones by Apple’s marketing get to have the same features for free. well, i think it’s a no-brainer. *thank you* open source community!)

  • InternationalRelationsXPERT

    For this reason alone I bought a Nokia Lumia 920. I work for a T-Mobile affiliate so I got a Nexus 4 for free as my work phone. Was horrified to find out it was only 3G capable.