Google's Nexus 4 has an LTE chip, but why is it disabled?

Google's Nexus 4 has an LTE chip, but why is it disabled?

Summary: Google's new Nexus 4 smartphone contains an LTE modem, so why has it been disabled? It all comes down to the matter of cost.

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It turns out that Google's new Nexus 4 contains a hidden LTE chip that can be activated using a simple hack. But, there's a good reason why that LTE modem has been disabled.

The modem was initially discovered by the eagle-eyed folks over at repair firm iFixit, who found a Qualcomm WTR1605L seven-band 4G LTE modem on the mainboard during the course of a teardown.

Then, technology site Tek.Gadg posted a video showing how to activate the LTE modem using a simple keystroke command, and showed the sorts of speeds you could expect from the hidden modem.

If the Nexus 4 has an LTE modem, why has it been disabled? According to LG, the manufacturer of the Nexus 4, it has been disabled for cost reasons.

Speaking to TechRadar, an LG spokesperson confirmed that the Nexus 4 uses the same Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset as found inside the LG Optimus G, and that this chipset is only available as a package with the processor and modem combined.

But Nexus 4 owners don't get a free LTE modem. While the Nexus 4 has LTE capabilities, according to LG, "it is only effective when combined with other essential hardware parts such as a signal amplifier and filter in order for it to work." These components have been omitted from the Nexus 4 in order to reduce cost.

So, given this, how do we explain the video? My guess is that the LTE modem may still be able to work in areas where the signal is strong enough to not require the signal amplifier and filter. This explains why some Nexus 4 owners have managed to get the hack to work, while others have not.

Image source: iFixit.

Topics: Android, Google, Mobility, Smartphones

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12 comments
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  • Makes sense to me.

    Sometimes it really is easier and cheaper to use extra parts than designing something completely new. That is the case with many model kits as well! Instead of designing something completely new the manufacturer gives you some extra parts on old sprues that you don't need. I am sure that in this case it is pretty similar.
    And hey, you get a working LTE modem out of it. So at least you get those high speeds in areas with a good signal! That is better than no LTE at all and the price of the Nexus 4 is great to begin with. Instead of seeing this as a bad thing this really is an added bonus in my opinion. Like small treasure in an already awesome package.
    mathiasappel@...
    • Kind Of

      Over here you'd need a 4G tarif, which wouldn't be much use if it only worked in strong signal areas. Can you access the LTE network without upgrading from a standard 3G H+ tarif?

      Also, reports suggest this is only compatible with band 4 which is currently only Canada. Not sure how true that is. The same report suggests that the N4 hasn't got regulatory approval for LTE so technically using it on those networks would be illegal. According to other reports that is.
      Little Old Man
      • Of course.

        Sure, you almost always need a special LTE data plan. However, here in Germany some carriers have contracts that are LTE enabled whether you own a 4G device or not. For example, to my knowledge all the data upgrade packs from O2 (from 300mb to 1gb) are 4G enabled and they also don't care what kind of device you use to user their network. As far as I know they are also the only carrier that we have here that allows tethering without any additional fees. No idea which band they are using though...
        mathiasappel@...
        • Far better than UK

          Doesn't sound like the carriers are out to fleece you.
          Little Old Man
  • Interesting

    I thought the conclusion was going to based on licensing cost, not additional hardware.
    Little Old Man
  • Umm that sounds dumb!

    Actually, it likely has more to do with the problems Google has had with LTE carriers not wanting to provide keys for the encryption.

    Sorry but, you don't solder an extra chip in if you do not need it and often that network chip doubles as a WiFi or GPS chip.
    slickjim
    • Few theories

      Cheaper to use the same chip contract as OpG to keep costs down (read OpG didn't sell enough to fulfil the chip contract)
      Mix of LTE makes it difficult (others seem to manage it)
      Updated model with 32gb and LTE next to be released (cynical)
      Battery life would have been laughable and sunk its sales (plausible)

      None sound outlandish.
      Little Old Man
  • Reminds me of Nook Color

    The original Nook Color had bluetooth capabilities built into its WiFi chip, but Barnes & Noble chose not to activate it. Cyanogenmod releases for the e-reader/tablet did activate the chip, however, and allowed owners to use the technology. Pretty amazon, and I recall just being blown away by this fact. I will note, however, that results of the hack were somewhat spotty. Range was quite minimal (a few inches, versus the 10 feet or so you can normally expect from bluetooth) and connections were spotty. I recall using a bluetooth keyboard to type and having it often start repeating keys at random. Likely this was due to a lack of supporting hardware as well (an antenna or such).
    dsf3g
    • B&N didn't have a license to enable Bluetooth

      That was discussed to death.

      In this case, Google wanted to a cheap product .... not only did they failed to get a license, they also approved a design that didn't include all the hardware needed to support LTE.
      wackoae
  • Yet even more to drool about.

    Imagine that, you get to use LTE illegally. I can only picture geeks drooling all over this news. Salivating like a group of hyenas on the prowl. The Nexus 4 won't just turn out to be the best phone of 2012, but also a classic.
    Tony U.
  • Thoughts

    Really wonder what would be the actual "cost" if it was enabled.
    This almost reminds me of when HP [weas it them] who disabled the VT technology in their laptops.
    Gisabun
  • OKkkk, I'll ask the question.

    If the need to omit a few tiny components to save money was the reason, then why wasn't the LTE chip not omitted?
    The Practical BBQ'r!