The Nexus 4, The Verge and LTE

We can first get a lot of facts out of the way up front:

  • According to the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) there were 6 BILLION mobile subscriptions in 2011

  • Strategy Analitics predicts that LTE will account for 90 million mobile connections in 2012 and will rise sharply to one billion connections by 2017, when it will comprise 15 percent of all mobile connections.

  • Informa Telecoms and Media predicts that HSPA will have 4 billion subscriptions in 2017, while LTE will have hit 1 billion subscriptions. According to their estimate, LTE is roughly doubling the number of subscriptions per year while HSPA subscriptions are roughly increasing at 30% a year.

So from this data, we can see that LTE is clearly the future of mobile broadband. First world countries will be the first to adopt LTE, and developing countries will be quite a bit further behind in their development and adoption of LTE.

Now lets see The Verge's reaction to the Nexus 4's lack of LTE

Nilay Patel on the Nexus 4:

My intention was to point out how deeply fucked up the world is that a company of Google's size can't make the right decision. I think Google made a huge mistake, I want to be very clear with this. They should not have done this. And I think at the end of the day, if the only, the other bad option for them was to produce unlocked AT&T LTE handsets and sell them at a loss, they should have done it and just lied and said we're out of stock . . .instead of saying 'we can't do this'.

Dieter Bohn on the Nexus 4:

The joke that I made earlier this morning is that, its not so much that its the Nexus 4, its that its the Nexus Petulance.
. . . . .
Does Google want the Nexus phones to be big sellers or not? It seems like they can't decide. It seems like they made a big go of it with the Galaxy Nexus and now they're just, they clearly don't think they're going to have this thing take over the planet. Do they want to sell a ton of these or not?

Dan Seifert on the Nexus 4:

Because its lacking LTE and even though its being picked up by Tmobile, as far as a sales success, the thing is essentially dead on arrival because even though its unlocked, AT&T is not going to sell this phone, Verizon is not going to sell this phone and between the two of them in the US, thats 200 million users that are not going to be exposed to this phone at all.

Chris Ziegler on the Nexus 4

Right now they're half assing it. They're not taking a principled stance on anything because anyone can make an unlocked HSPA device. So what?

Josh Topolsky on the Nexus 4

I mean, this thing is a, its a nightmare.

Ross Miller on the Nexus 4, two minutes after Dan Seifert said that the highest selling Samsung phone in the US was a prepaid phone called the Galaxy Prevail on Boost Mobile:

We're all on the same page that an off contract phone with no LTE makes no sense in a country where everyone just gets it on contract anyway.

Its clear that they are coming at this from a straight American consumer perspective. They did mention briefly that this phone makes a lot more sense outside of the US, but I think their personal feelings as potential consumers of the device are going to be far more important to how they review it. This is exactly how potential consumers of the device should react, but I think technology journalists should look at the global landscape when it comes to missing features like LTE. I am not one who cares much about review scores, but I do feel it would be ridiculously American centric to dock a phone a large amount for not having LTE while 3% of the world's mobile broadband subscribers are on LTE and 97% are currently on HSPA+, which are btw the current percentages according to Informa Telecoms & Media. Especially when during the lifespan of this phone, 2 years, LTE will only grow to 8.2% of mobile broadband subscriptions worldwide.

Now that we have established some basic facts about LTE and we can see where The Verge stands on the LTE issue, lets go a little more in depth:

Nilay Patel says that the other "bad option" for Google was to produce an unlocked AT&T LTE device. This clearly means that the "good option" for Google was to produce a Verizon LTE Nexus 4, because Nilay isn't talking about Sprint LTE as a "good option".

Lets examine the difference in between the "bad option" Google chose, and the "good option" of Verizon LTE

Before we begin, lets get some facts out of the way again:

  • Verizon has the most reliable service nationwide in the United States

  • Verizon has the most coverage in the United States

  • The fastest HSPA+ speeds in the United States of the four major carriers are on Tmobile

  • Tmobile is not comparable to Verizon when it comes to coverage

  • As of October 2012, Verizon sends about 35% of its data over LTE, with the remaining 65% being send over 3g.

You would think that Verizon LTE is ubiquitous the way some talk about how important it is and that its speeds are absolutely crushing the competition, and you would be correct on the speeds if you counted upload speeds as equally important as download speeds. For the most part though, when people talk about speeds, they are concerned with download speeds, and that is when facts get seperated by perception quite a bit.

Lets look at the data from a survey taken over the summer by PCMag on 30 cities. Remember, this is before the introduction of the iPhone 5 LTE. Verizon's LTE speeds have already begun to come down to earth from the introduction of Android LTE phones on its networks, and the iPhone is going to significantly magnify those trends.

Here is what PC Mag had to say:

T-Mobile's HSPA+ 42 is the 4G dark horse. It's really fast, covers a lot of the country, and is inexpensive. We found it to be faster than Verizon LTE for downloads in 11 cities (T-Mobile didn't win, though, because Verizon had much faster upload speeds.) Outside cities, where T-Mobile has coverage, it blew away other 3G networks. But that's the key: T-Mobile's truly rural coverage is slimmer than AT&T's or Verizon's.

City

Tmobile HSPA+42 Download Average

Verizon LTE Download Average

Atlanta, GA

8.36 Mbps

8.79 Mbps

Baltimore, MD

7.32 Mbps

8.54 Mbps

Boston, MA

8.45 Mbps

7.98 Mbps

Charlotte, NC

10.11 Mbps

6.47 Mbps

Chicago, IL

8.19 Mbps

7.90 Mbps

Dallas, TX

7.89 Mbps

10.32 Mbps

Denver, CO

6.81 Mbps

5.68 Mbps

Detroit, MI

8.02 Mbps

9.91 Mbps

Houston, TX

7.92 Mbps

11.95 Mbps

Indianapolis, IN

7.62 Mbps

15.26 Mbps

Jacksonville, FL

7.92 Mbps

6.55 Mbps

Kansas City, KS/MO

2.39 Mbps

12.42 Mbps

Las Vegas, NV

6.82 Mbps

7.07 Mbps

Los Angeles, CA

5.88 Mbps

8.06 Mbps

Memphis, TN

3.44 Mbps

12.84 Mbps

Miami, FL

8.63 Mbps

8.79 Mbps

New Orleans, LA

7.09 Mbps

9.82 Mbps

New York, NY

6.70 Mbps

6.51 Mbps

Philadelphia, PA

4.27 Mbps

12.58 Mbps

Phoenix, AZ

6.14 Mbps

7.31 Mbps

Portland, OR

8.67 Mbps

10.22 Mbps

Raleigh, NC

9.72 Mbps

10.37 Mbps

Salt Lake City, UT

9.01 Mbps

8.22 Mbps

San Antonio, TX

7.80 Mbps

7.97 Mbps

San Diego, CA

7.83 Mbps

8.76 Mbps

San Francisco, CA

7.21 Mbps

6.81 Mbps

Seattle, WA

6.60 Mbps

6.01 Mbps

St. Louis, MO

2.86 Mbps

9.47 Mbps

Tucson, AZ

7.28 Mbps

6.92 Mbps

Washington, DC

7.32 Mbps

6.53 Mbps

Note: If you are viewing this post on the The Verge Android app, you can only see 2 of the three columns in the above table. There is a Verizon LTE column next to the Tmobile column for comparison.

.

Thats a fairly comprehensive sample of the United States' mobile broadband state as of mid-summer 2012. Remember, these are pre-iPhone 5 LTE. AT&T is also part of the study, but they did not have as comprehensive of an LTE spread as Verizon, although where they did have LTE it was VERY fast.

  • Tmobile average speed across 30 US cities: 7.14Mbps
  • Verizon average speed across 30 US cities: 8.87Mbps

This is the massive difference that we should all be losing our minds over the Nexus 4 not having access to? A 20% speed bump? I get that Verizon is far and away the best carrier when it comes to coverage, and for someone who travels often like The Verge's editors, it makes sense to go with Verizon. For people in the US who are living near or in one of these cities or have coverage from Tmobile, I think the need for LTE is far less clear.

Pricing

  • The cheapest Tmobile plan for a smartphone starts at $30 a month with no contract or taxes or fees, and offers a paltry 100 minutes, with unlimited texting and 5gb of full HSPA+42 speed, with unlimited Edge (2g) data. There is also a $45 a month plan with no taxes or fees using Tmobile that has unlimited calling, unlimited texting and 2gb of HSPA+. Then plans go up from there.
  • The cheapest Verizon plan is $90 + taxes + fees and offers unlimited talk, unlimited texts and 1gb of data. Then plans go up from there.

If you have made it this far, quickly go back and re-read the quotes from The Verge staff and compare them to what we now know about LTE in its current state.

So what does this all mean?

Clearly Google did not choose to pursue LTE for a reason. What these reasons are, we don't truly know. We can make some assumptions based on where the mobile market is today and where it is going in the future. LTE is the future, there is no denying that, and no one should take anything different from this post. Clearly, LTE is going to take a couple of years to even become the dominant mobile broadband solution in the United States, and probably a decade or more before developing countries even begin to see rollouts of LTE technology. My personal opinion is that Google decided that price was far more important than trying to create a flagship device that has LTE. There is certainly a LARGE market for this phone, and for anyone to argue differently is absurd.

The idea that they should have produced an LTE handset knowing it wouldn't sell well just for the sake of saying they have LTE is plain idiotic. Nilay argued that the reason that Google doesn't have the power to create an unlocked LTE device on Verizon is that they don't have leverage due to massive sales like Samsung has, so Nilay's solution is for Google to purposefully create a device that won't sell well. . . . . . . Two questions for Nilay:

  • Wouldn't Google be in a much greater place to bargain by selling tens of millions of Nexus phones across the world and creating actual demand and name recognition for their product? That is what the iPhone did before it came to Verizon. I don't understand what Google gains by selling an LTE Nexus 4 on Verizon, selling maybe a couple hundred thousand units, and then having all of those customers wait for upgrades for months. What does that gain them?
  • This is less of a question than a puzzled statement, but here it goes. Your reaction would have been entirely different if Google had created an LTE version of their Nexus 4, sold it for twice as much on Verizon, had Google Wallet blocked and had Verizon crapware on it. You may have had a sarcastic comment or two to make about the lack of Google Wallet and the crapware, but you would have been satisfied that Google was able to make it happen. I don't understand this. Of course Google could have done that. They did it with the Galaxy Nexus. It was a horrible experience for consumers and for the Nexus brand.

Personally, I am going to assume that The Verge's initial reactions were born out of shock and that with time they will come to realize that some of the things they said were both wrong and absurd and that the phone is not "dead on arrival". This seems to be the normal reaction when it comes to technology products, to overreact and then with time come back down to reality, and I have certainly been guilty of it as well. The Verge is absolutely right about LTE being the future and I understand the disappointment as technology consumers of not getting the best Android phone on the best networks, but as technology journalists, you cannot simply look at your own personal situation and apply your own wants as those of all consumers. There are consumers like myself that are sick of being on contracts paying 3x more a month for a 20% bump in speed. There is the 97% of mobile broadband subscribers that are currently not on LTE due to lack of access, lack of funds, or other reasons.

If you have made it all the way through this post, and decide to comment, please refrain from making snide comments about the iPhone having LTE, "fandroids" mocking the 4s for not having LTE, etc. Also, don't post your own best LTE speedtest as some sort of proof against the PCMag test. I understand that speeds vary greatly, and you posting a single speedtest is not going to change anyone's minds.

Oh yea, and if you found the post enjoyable or informative, be sure to Recommend it up at the top left of the page.