“When will ICS be available for my device?” – It’s a question most of us have been asking each other — and our carriers — ever since Ice Cream Sandwich was announced by Google on the 19th of October last year.

The wait for a software update seems to take excruciatingly long since the update must be prepared and tested by the manufacturer and then ‘tested’ again by the local carrier before it is pushed out to our phones. It’s this ‘carrier testing’ time that seems to cause the most frustration as it can add months to the wait even after the update has been pushed out to ‘stock’ phones purchased outright from overseas.

The Samsung Galaxy S II is a perfect example of this with the international update being pushed out from the 13th March to some lucky countries, however, Vodafone is claiming the update is ‘still in testing’; Telstra is promising ‘early April’; and Optus is promising nothing more than ‘early 2012’.

So what happens during ‘carrier testing’ for Android phones? Vodafone have attempted to remove the mystery from this process with their three part blog post ‘The Android Software Journey’ which is well worth a read. Sony (Ericsson) also provided some insight from a manufacturer’s perspective with their post ‘Ice Cream Sandwich – from source code release to software upgrade’. Kudos to both Vodafone and Sony for providing some transparency into the process — no doubt trying to reduce the endless queries they are receiving via twitter, email and phone calls.

While each carrier assures us they dedicate every working hour testing the update so they can push it out to our phones, how long are they really taking to ‘test’ the software before releasing it? Here at Ausdroid we thought we’d do some research and browse our archives and the wilds of the internet to see how long each carrier was really taking. We looked at a total of 22 phones across the 3 major carriers (Optus, Telstra and Vodafone) for a total of 29 firmware updates. Only major updates were considered, such as Donut to Eclair, Eclair to Froyo, Froyo to Gingerbread and Gingerbread to Ice Cream Sandwich. Some phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S were lucky enough to receive 2 major updates from the carriers (Eclair to Froyo to Gingerbread).

Testing times..

To determine the ‘carrier testing’ period we looked at the period between when the ‘stock’ update was pushed out to unbranded International phones, and the date the carrier pushed the update to their carrier-branded phones. The entire data set will be provided below, but here are the highlights from our research:

  • The longest single period of carrier testing goes to Optus for the Gingerbread update for the Samsung Galaxy Tab at 174 days
  • This was closely followed by Telstra’s Froyo update for the Samsung Galaxy S at 172 days
  • Honourable mention to Vodafone for releasing the HTC Desire Z Gingerbread update on the same day as HTC, meaning they must have had early access, for zero days carrier testing
  • Telstra have zero days for the HTC Velocity ICS update, although that phone is specific to Telstra so there is nothing to compare against
  • Optus score an honourable mention for pushing out the (unexpected) Sony Ericsson Xperia X10 Gingerbread update just 4 days after Sony Ericsson. It took Vodafone 32 days and Telstra 57 days

On average, across all phones and firmware updates, removing Telstra’s Velocity and Vodafone’s Desire Z from calculations, the average number of days spent ‘carrier testing’ are:

  • Optus at 64 days
  • Vodafone at 79 days
  • Telstra at 125 days

Based on these average timelines, Samsung Galaxy S II owners can expect their ICS updates — at the latest — by 16 May for Optus, 31 May for Vodafone, and 16 July for Telstra. The situation is not improving either. If we look at all the carrier updates by year, there were 7 major updates issued in 2010 over an average of 48 days, but in 2011 this blew out to 13 major firmware updates over an average of 113 days.

What can you do about it?

For the vast majority of people – there’s not much you can do but be patient. The carriers tell us that they are testing the software to ensure the best possible experience on their network, and they back that with a warranty and ongoing support. For the impatient (such as myself and most tech-heads) who are comfortable flashing a stock firmware or a completely custom firmware, you will have access to the most up-to-date software but you lose the ability to contact the carrier for help when something goes wrong. Of course the other option is to purchase your phone outright via someone like MobiCity rather than subsidised on a contract through the carriers, but that is a big cash outlay upfront and most people prefer to pay the phone off on a contract over 24 months.

In the meantime, keep an eye on the pages below for information regarding updates for your phone. And before entering into your next 24 month contract, consider not only price and network coverage, but also how long you are prepared to wait for ‘carrier testing’.

Optus – Is my mobile phone/tablet’s firmware up to date?
Telstra – Next G® smartphone software release schedule
Vodafone – Software Update Weekly Wrap – 14th March, 2012