I was in Sydney almost 2 weeks ago for the Asus Transformer Infinity launch and Telstra were kind enough to set up some time for me to speak to one of their Mobile Software managers Craig Ruhan. He sat down and spoke to me for a while about Android Updates and the processes that they go through to approve the updates and roll them out. I transcribed this myself so any omissions or mistakes are my own for which I apologise in advance, so that said you can either listen to the interview or read the transcript below
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So basically we have Craig Ruhan here from Telstra, we’re just going to do a bit of a talk on the update cycle, so just if you wouldn’t mind just giving us a rundown on what exactly your involvement is in the process of software updates and things like that for Telstra.
I basically program manage the device introduction side of things and all of the software updates as well so that’s new devices coming in to Telstra, so all the testing and stuff that happens before that and also then the post release maintenance releases. I do a few other things as well, I do all the technical evaluation of devices that are ranged at the time but in the context of this discussion the program management side of things is what I do for both new devices and manage releases.
Do you Actively go out and seek updates from manufacturers, i.e if you see an update in the US for a device do you then approach them to get an update?
Yes we do, there are 2 types of updates where there’ll be stuff where there’s maybe a problem that we’ve found on our network with a device that we’ve unfortunately missed during the testing or there’s something in the network that’s changed, or customers report a problem, we`ll pick it up, we’ll pro-actively go to the vendor and say ‘You need to fix this, it’s a problem’ let’s work out our timings and all the rest of it, we’ll have our discussions with them and we’ll get an update through. Then there’s the other type of update which is the ones that are pushed by the OS Vendor like Google or Microsoft or whatever and those ones we have pretty good visibility on just from being involved in the industry and that we know that they’re coming and if they haven’t told us about it then we go and talk to them about it pro-actively but generally we all know about it at the same time and it’s just a process of discussion about the timings for those updates.
Once you have actually received an update from them be it a security or maintenance update or a major OS upgrade or something like that. How long and what sort of testing process do they go through before it’s actually released onto the phone or pushed out over the air or downloaded via Kies or software?
Depends on the scope of the update, we’ve sort of bedded the process down into major updates and minor updates. Major udpates obviously would be something like an upgrade from Gingerbread to ICS or a major Windows Phone update like MC3, that was probably, you could class that almost as a major update. Then there’s the minor ones which is just a 4.0.3 to 4.0.4 update. So a major update we factor in 2 test cycles, minor updates we factor in just a single test cycle with Telstra. Each of those test cycles takes 2 weeks, so end to end a major update we try to have it out the door and approved for the manufacturer within 6 weeks, and a minor update within 2 weeks. And then it’s just a process from the manufacturer to begin deploying that and that varies from…I’m seeing HTC turning around in days after the TA literally sometimes 24 hours some vendors take a bit longer but that’s to be expected. HTC are a lead vendor, some of them take a bit longer, usually they’re done within 10 days or so after we approve it they’re deploying it to customers and they’re the same timelines you’ll see with our competitors as well.
With the upgrade process, one of the major ones we’ve seen which I’m more aware of than anyone else because I buy Nexus phones. The Decision to go with manufacturer based updates rather than go with Google based updates which would see updates arriving a lot sooner, we’ve received quite a bit of feedback from readers in regards to the carriers in Australia, they’ve taken 6 months to go from 4.0.1 on the Galaxy Nexus to 4.0.4. I think you’re rolling out 4.0.4 to the Galaxy Nexus now but I’m not sure. That’s one of the things we haven’t seen is notificaiton, like if you go to the software update page it still says late July it doesn’t actually say ‘available now’ or anything like that.
I take full accountability with that one with the Nexus one, there are a lot of reasons for that, we only received it we turned it around, we tested it and the page didn’t get updated because I was on leave last week or the week before when it happened. There will be an update going out going out today or tonight or tomorrow morning we just getting the final things changed on it, as I mentioned before the format is going to change quite radically. But with the Nexus ones Google do their own thing, the Google sourced ones they have complete end to end control over that. We have no input whatsoever with those guys, unless there’s a major problem damaging our network and then we’ll pick up the phone and talk to our Google contacts and they’re actually quite good about that, that sort of thing but with Samsung it’s particularly a case with the Nexus, we basically have to wait for them to provide an update for testing.
Was there a reason you went with the Samsung based update Stream versus the International GSM variant?
We weren’t offered it, as far as I`m aware it wasn’t offered to any carriers. I could be wrong on that but it certainly wasn’t offered to us.
One of the ones we’ve been asked about at the moment is a missing update from your software page which is for the Galaxy Note.
It doesn’t actually appear on your software update on the phones or the tablets.
Yes, it doesn’t.
Optus and Vodafone have both approved the release and trying to track down any information from Telstra was very hard.
Yeah and that’s another Omission that’s going in.
So that’s going to be fixed in this update?
That is, look, for the purpose of this, I mean there’s no problems telling you that we’re aiming to approve that by next Monday. Maybe a bit earlier, there’s just the last little bit’s and pieces we need to do on that one to get it out the door.’
And once you’ve approved an update do you actually push it out yourselves or do you get the manufacturer to push it out?
The Manufacturer does it all.
With specifically the Samsung updates, do you decide with the manufacturer whether you push it out via Kies or go over the air?
There is a dialogue that goes on there. Telstra’s absolute, absolute strong preference, in fact I’d go as far as to say is it’s a mandatory requirement for us is FOTA(Firmware Over The Air). Where that’s not possible, then obviously we have to fall back to other mechanisms. The only reasons, if a device is capable of doing an update, it’d take some pretty serious problems with that update for us to say don’t offer it as an over the air update and that’s the biggest one we have about that is just avoiding Bill Shock with customers, our regulatory, well not so much regulatory our legal guys are on it when it comes to any notifications to customers about carriage charges, so unless there’s notification for carriage charges and the customers are aware that they could be charged for the data, then we’re not allowed to actually offer it as a FOTA update and we’re working with the manufacturers to make sure that they have those notifications now, we’ve only had 1 or 2 cases recently where we couldn’t do a FOTA because..and that’s the only reason we’d stop a FOTA.
Where does Telstra stand, I mean we’re obviously Android based so we’re mainly interested in Android, so we’re mainly focused on things like actively romming and rooting and things like that, where does Telstra stand on that sort of thing? Like If I say root my phone, I have a Nexus, I can fully build it back to stock, lock the bootloader, there is nothing wrong with this, absolutely stock standard, would that be a problem with warranty work or anything like that?
The warranty side of things is something that the actual device manufacturer’s..
So that’s more them rather than Telstra?
Yep, them more than Telstra, so that’s certainly a question that you’d have to take up with those guys.
How do you feel about with the Galaxy Nexus in particular, with the Google Updates because they took so long, a lot of the guys I know actually just went and flashed the update, do you find you try to get the Nexus updates out quicker, because of that or?
We want to get the updates out as fast as possible, um, I mean people listening won’t see it but I haven’t got much hair, I used to have a lot more hair, before I started doing this. Look, we want to get it out there as fast as possible, it’s in our interests, it’s in our customers interests, it’s in the manufacturers interests to get it out there as fast as possible. If we could get it out as fast as Google we would. We push our manufacturers very, very hard on getting it out there as fast as possible, it doesn’t always work out that way but recently we have had some successes there, we want it out there just as fast as you guys do.
Please feel free to say you ‘no’ can’t comment, we have had the exact same response from other carriers. It seems that there is a lot of scrutiny on Android updates and things like that before they’re even released, they’re tested, they’re tested very thoroughly and sometimes that takes an extended period of time. It doesn’t seem to be that way with things like iOS updates. There’s a bit of disparity in terms of the feeling that Android gets a lot more focus than an iOS upgrade, is there any sort of thing you can comment on, on the process for an iOS upgrade vs an Android upgrade or?
I can’t go into any details, because Apple uh, we have agreements that we can’t talk about. All I can say is we do test all the updates with Apple.
So you’d be given an update and then say it’s going to be released here or?
We do work closely with them, but that’s no secret but I can’t really go into any details on that.
No, that’s fair enough, I understand. Now you said you were looking to upgrade your process of announcing updates and things like that, have you got any details on what you intend to do there?
Yeah, it’s early days, so at the moment, my feeling with the page, that it is at the moment, the way it is today.
Just on the page, it’s very hard to find.
It’s very hard to find, good point. Really hard to find,it’s buried down there. It’s static, it’s hard to update, it’s hard to put any extra information in there, it’s hard for us to actually have a communication with our customers because there’s no way for anyone to, besides going to a completely seperate forum through Crowd Support and basically getting upset and complaining.
Yeah, because we have had issues where we’ve tried to contact the Telstra Twitter team and they’ve just said ‘Oh, check the website’ which obviously you’re saying is very static and it is very hard to get updates.
And it’s co-ordinating the updates to that one as well, I won’t go into the internal processes but it takes a little bit of effort to get that out there. So what we’ve done is moved it across into the Crowd Support Forum, we’ve had a dedicated part of that created and that’s going to be a bit more interactive. It’s going to have essentially the same sort of information but a bit of extra detail in there, so we’re actually going to be specifying how many rounds of testing we’re targeting, what our expected dates are. We may still have quite broad dates when we haven’t got them locked in yet. So we might be saying September instead of say ’16th of September’, that sort of thing but where we have dates we know, we’ll put them in there we’ll also indicate as I said how many rounds of testing are expected and what round it’s currently at, that sort of information. So giving you guys that are looking at it from the outside, because you’re all looking and want to know where it is, at least you can understand where we are in the process and an approximate date when it’s going to come out or an actual date when we have that information.
One of the things I find frustrating when looking at those updates, I know you have to send things back to the Manufacturer for more testing or manipulation of the code is that it’s just generally sent back, saying ‘Sent back to Manufacturer’ and there’s no real reason why and we’re getting a lot more technical people with their phones and they know what’s sort of problems, so they want to know more information, is that something you can do or is that something that you’re prevented with Non-Disclosure Agreements and things like that?
The latter unfortunately, we are prevented from saying a lot about what the actual probelms are because of the NDA level stuff, would I like to be able to, yes I would I mean I’m the same I mean I’m essentially even though I’m the commercial side of the business, I’m a techie at heart and I would love to be able to let you guys know the ins and outs of it, it’d probably make your hair crawl sometimes and it’s not disparaging but some of the stuff that comes up you just go ‘Thank god we caught that, that could have been a disaster beyond disaster’, you know sometimes you just lay awake at night going ‘God if we didn’t pick that one up we’d be recalling a half dozen phones’.
Be In Big trouble.
So I’d love to be able to, but I can’t unfortunately put a lot of information in, where we can we will, but most of the time we’re restricted because of the confidentiallity agreements with our partners.
So with the Crowd Support forums is that going to be more active in terms of going through with like the Twitter guys and the Facebook guys as to actually announcing updates when they’re available, or..Is that part of your process?
There will be more of a dialogue with the people who are actually doing the actual work, so the updates will be posted basically under my name and then I have a counterpart who looks after tablets and data devices as well, so, basically we’ll do our best to keep you guys up to date, obviously the rest of our social network team will be involved when we need them, but we can get a more immediate interaction with you guys and more immediate interaction when there’s questions and problem, we’ll do our best I mean there’s only a couple of us, so we’ll do our best because we’ve got the actual job to do of getting things out the door but we’ll see how this goes, it’s a bold step for us. We’ll see how it goes.
Basically I’ve pretty much come to the end of everything I really wanted to ask, I just wanted to know what sort of phone you use and tablet and stuff like that.
Well, I’m using the, I mean 4G is the flavour of the month for us, it’s flavour of the year for us actually so.
So you’ve got the One XL?
The One XL, which I think is a fantastic device.
Now we are looking at our fearless leader Buzz has actually got the One XL and has sold it becuase he had issues..
I did see that
With the Multi-Tasking, is there anything that you can provide software wise that HTC is looking at or something?
I seriously haven’t had that problem and I did see, I didn’t know the reason, I haven’t had a chance, but I did see that he was selling it.
And it’s actually not just him, I’ve got other people I know in Canberra who actually are having the same issues with the Multi-Tasking as well.
You’ve got my contact details, I`ll get it raised with HTC and I`ll let you know what comes back. I haven’t seen that and I’ve been using that phone now for, well quite some time, since March or so, through all it’s iterations and it’s certainly pretty well, Yeah. I don’t have all the phones I that I use with me, I haven’t got big enough pockets.
Certainly must be fun having all those phones available.
You’d think so yeah. No it is, it’s what gets me out of bed in the morning, yeah.
Thankyou very much I have no more questions, I really appreciate it. Thankyou.
The CrowdSupport forum that Craig spoke about is now live. You can check it out here, we here at Ausdroid applaud the efforts being made by Telstra to make their update process more transparent and accessible to their customers. Craig has also offered to take some followup questions from our readers, now bear in mind we want to keep it clean. Please post your comments down below, vote up the ones you want asked and I’ll speak with Craig.