Why the Google Nexus One has only T-Mobile 3G capability (or one reason at least)

January 5, 2010

Well it actually has 3G bands that are compatible with most of the rest of the world too, but my immediate question upon seeing confirmation today that Google’s new “superphone” would only be capable of 3G data speeds on T-Mobile in the U.S., was why not a version for AT&T too? (as was rumored, especially given the surprise that Verizon will get it’s own version) 

And for that matter why weren’t 3G bands 850/1900 as opposed to 1700 (or AWS which is actually 1700 down and 2100 up) chosen for inclusion in the first place? T-Mobile has approximately 34 million subscribers (and just launched AWS utilizing Canadian carrier WIND can’t have more than a million just yet?).  Meanwhile, Canadian carriers Telus, Bell, Fido, and Rogers along with AT&T represent over 100 million potential subscribers using 850/1900?  Was AT&T unwilling to play ball with Google selling the device directly, and offering a subsidized price for 2 year contract commitments as T-Mobile is doing?  If so, then why should Google care?  There are PLENTY of SIM switching power users on AT&T (not to mention our Canadian cell phone junkie cousins?).

Of course the original scuttlebutt was Google was going to sell a device with both AT&T and T-Mobile 3G capable radios.  Never mind Motorola is the first known manufacturer to have accomplished this feat and they only just announced having done so – with a “radio module”, not a phone.  And that once again begged a question I’ve been asking myself for a while:

What is so damn difficult about including multiple 3G radios in a smartphone?  We’ve had quadband EDGE capable phones around for years, so what is the difference between pairing those radios and and pairing 3G capable radios?  The iPhone has triband HSDPA (850/1900/2100). The Nexus One has triband HSDPA (900/1700/2100).  So why don’t we already have at least quadband HSDPA in a device, like 850/1700/1900/2100? 

Tired of not hearing any definitive answers from the geeks I follow on the interwebs, I started hunting like a madman this afternoon.  I eventually Googled my way to the GSMA’s

official site specifically looking for news on potential growth in usage of AWS spectrum in places outside of North America. (so I could maybe understand why both Google and Nokia have chosen to release such high profile 3G data driven devices with just AWS support)  Sure enough I found a May 2009 report prepared for the GSMA by a research outfit called Global View Partners entitled “Momentum Building in the AWS Band”.  LOTS of good and interesting info is in the report about why AWS is such an important piece of the global spectrum allocation challenges many countries face, but by the time I reached page 21 and read the paragraph included below, I knew I had finally found an answer to the  question angrily posed from the end of the previous paragraph:

Device caveat and roaming – devices currently support only two simultaneous “high” bands. At present, devices can handle a maximum of two simultaneous high bands only (e.g., 1900 MHz and 2100 MHz), and third-generation mobile devices typically support three frequency bands total. The operator can specify two low (e.g., 800 MHz/900 MHz) and one high (e.g., 1900 MHz), or the opposite (one low, two high).”

At least Motorola has now apparently cleared this engineering hurdle, and unlocked quintuple banded 3G devices will soon be a reality……just not soon enough for me!

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