Since Google started rolling out the over-the-air (OTA) updates for Android 5.0 Lollipop to Nexus devices, many users have been regularly checking for a system update – many Australians, to no avail. Telstra users are reporting that the update is being blocked, even on phones that were not sold by the carrier. The issue is affecting Nexus 4 and Nexus 5 owners, and may represent a larger change for the worse for the Nexus family.
This issue first came to our attention a couple of weeks ago, when Ausdroid reader Alex submitted a comment on our OTA links post. His Nexus 5 reported that no software update was available, and when he inserted a SIM card from another carrier the update swiftly appeared. Alex isn’t alone. These findings have been mirrored by other users on Whirlpool, as well as on the Nexus5 sub-reddit.
Is it possible? Nexus updates have had a chequered past when it comes to Australian carriers (who remembers the Galaxy Nexus?)
As of this week, the official answer is yes. Carriers can and in Telstra’s case, are, able to block updates from being delivered to Nexus handsets on their network, and it doesn’t matter whether you purchased your phone from the carrier or from Google Play.
Google’s support page explaining OTA updates for Nexus phones previously advised that owners of Nexus phones would receive the latest version of Android “directly from Google”, with updates taking up to two weeks to reach your device. This page has been recently updated with an addendum. The new statement now reads:
Nexus 4, Nexus 5, Nexus 6, Nexus 7, Nexus 9, and Nexus 10 devices receive the latest version of Android directly from Google. Once an update is available, it can take up to two weeks for it to reach your device. Based on your carrier, it may take longer than two weeks after release to get an update.
(Note: The updated part has been highlighted for emphasis)
So, yes. Telstra can block your Lollipop update, and it seems they’ve chosen to do so.
We asked Telstra to address the claims and they supplied this statement:
We’re actively working to bring the Telstra-approved Lollipop update to our Nexus 5 customers. We are in the midst of the testing process and hope to make it available in the next few weeks.
When pushed to provide further comment on why Telstra was blocking software updates going to phones that were not purchased from them, Telstra had nothing further to add.
We requested an explanation from Google as to why Telstra is able to block software updates to the Nexus 4 – a handset it did not sell – and Nexus 5 units not sold directly by the carrier, but did not receive a response.
Carriers certainly do need to test software updates before releasing them into the wild, and they’ve built up a certain degree of transparency around their testing processes with regular posts to public forums identifying the phones and software versions and major changes currently under test and ETA for delivery of the update to customers. Telstra posts an update of this list every couple of weeks in their CrowdSupport forum, Vodafone on its blog and Optus updates a page in its support system.
The Nexus 4 and Nexus 5 are not – at the time of writing – listed on Telstra’s most recent handset software updates post. We have no idea whether Telstra is actually testing Lollipop for the Nexus 4, or if they’re just going to block the update for good. We also don’t know the timeframe in which Nexus 5 owners can expect to see the update, and Telstra’s CrowdSupport representatives are maintaining an odd silence when asked about Nexus updates.
Sometimes the transparency we’ve come to expect isn’t the transparency we get, leading to confusion and anger from customers.
It’s worth remembering now that carriers can block updates that come directly from Google, that carriers have blocked updates from manufacturers in the past as well, and for good reasons. Vodafone previously halted the rollout of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean to the Nexus S because it didn’t meet regulatory conditions – specifically, there was an issue related to emergency calls, one of the conditions under which they advised they would reject an OTA update in their 3-part Android Software Update blog (the other condition was related to pre-population of settings after a factory reset). That update would have been delivered by Samsung, the manufacturer of the code, not Google.
Telstra has not commented on whether Google’s Lollipop update is being blocked for either of those reasons, merely stating that they’re testing the update. Some users who have updated to Lollipop have also had mixed feelings over the update, further muddying the waters – even some members of our team are wondering whether Telstra’s potentially doing us a favour by holding back the update.
To take a look at the other side of the fence, Apple is also subject to carrier testing of their software updates, though we’re led to believe that process is more a case of “this update is being released unless you give us a good reason to stop it”. It’s nowhere near as transparent as the processes carriers have put in place for Android updates, although it probably doesn’t need to be due to the differences in the ecosystem and rollout process. Some users who recently updated to iOS 8.0.1 probably wish that testing was a little more thorough, though – and to be fair, Google’s had a few bad software updates in the past too.
So, Telstra has taken advantage of the option to block OTA updates to Nexus devices. Where do other carriers stand? We asked both Vodafone and Optus, and got some pretty similar responses.
Vodafone for their part appears to have no plans in place to block OTA updates to Nexus phones, especially so given that they haven’t distributed them since the Nexus S.
Optus gave us a statement:
Optus does not currently range any Nexus devices with Lollipop. We have no policy in place to block OTA updates for any devices with Lollipop.
If you’re a Telstra user, now may be a great time to grab a $2 SIM from Vodafone or Optus so you can get your Lollipop update – and you can try out another network while you’re at it.
Update (04/12 21:30):
We’ve received the following statement from Telstra on the update process regarding the Nexus 5 – we have asked for further clarification on the Nexus 4, but Telstra have advised :
We can confirm that we have just received the latest version of the Android Lollipop update for the Nexus 5 and we are working as quickly as possible to test it. To ensure our customers get the best experience we have a policy of always testing device software on our network before it is released.
The way in which Google implements the release of software updates to our customers means that anyone with a Telstra SIM in a Nexus 5 (even if it is not the Telstra variant) will be unable to download the global update. We apologise for the inconvenience this has caused some of our customers and we are working with Google to determine whether we can change this setup so that these customers can update their devices immediately if they wish to.