Oct 08 AT 12:22 PM Taylor Wimberly 35 Comments

More info on the Sprint OTA problem

Apparently I wasn’t the only one who was shocked about the news that Sprint will not initially support over the air system updates for Android. Many of our readers questioned the report and some people are assuming I don’t have my facts straight.

Since writing the initial report, I had the chance to speak with several more sources (including people from HTC, Samsung, and Sprint) and obtained new information on this interesting problem.

Q: How can you claim Sprint will ship Android 1.5 when Android 1.6 is the build that added CDMA support?

A: Both HTC and Samsung created custom builds of Android 1.5 and added CDMA support on their own. This is no different from how Cyanogen was able to take bits of Android 1.6 and port them to some of his earlier roms. If you watch our hands on video with the Samsung Moment, you can clearly see Android 1.5 is installed and it was working with CDMA.

Someone from Samsung told me they wanted to ship with Android 1.6, but Google released the final code much later than they were expecting it.

Q: Why is Sprint not supporting OTA updates? T-Mobile has been doing it with Android for months.

A: Everyone I spoke with mentioned the file size of updates as the limiting factor. Sprint’s OTA system is only designed to handle update files up to 10 MB and many of the Android udpates are 40-50 MB.

I know this sounds crazy, but I’m just reporting what I was told. A Sprint developer explained this issue as a legal matter. He said that the OTA system Sprint is using will render a phone inoperable while it is being updated. They currently have this 10 MB cap because they don’t want the customers phone to be unusable for any longer.

Q: Will Sprint customers really have to wait till 2010 to receive Android 1.6?

A: A Samsung executive told me not to expect Android 1.6 until 2010. I questioned a Sprint dev on the timetable and he would not deny it. He explained that T-Mobile was able to release Android 1.6 already because they have more experience with Android and had more time to test the latest release.

Q: How does Sprint expect the non-tech people to update their phone?

When I asked how Sprint expects people to update their phones without over the air updates, I was given two scenarios. Customers could download an update file to the PC and apply it by hooking up their phone via USB. Non-tech people could visit a Sprint store and have a Sprint employee perform the udpate.

Neither option sounds that great to me. If the updates are not automatically sent out, I picture more than half of Sprint’s customers never updating their phone.

Conclusion: So what now?

I would love to be wrong on this OTA problem, but everyone I spoke with provided the same information. I understand that Google was late releasing Android 1.6, but Sprint needs to find a way to quickly roll out this update. Android 1.5 is lacking many of the new APIs that are included with Android 1.6 which means it will not support many of the new applications that are coming out.

At the end of the day, system updates are controlled by the carrier and not the handset makers. If you want to express your concern over this issue, please direct it at Sprint and not HTC or Samsung.

Hopefully Sprint will recognize the importance of Android 1.6 and come up with a solution to provide it before 2010.

Taylor is the founder of Android and Me. He resides in Dallas and carries the Samsung Galaxy S 4 and HTC One as his daily devices. Ask him a question on Twitter or Google+ and he is likely to respond. | Ethics statement

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  • Greg

    The OTA issue is a really big deal and Sprint needs to take a long hard look at their policy. They are going to wind up isolating their customers. Event worse, thanks to Google’s policy of constantly breaking interfaces from release to release, usually without any form of backward compatibility, Sprint customers with Android phones are going to find many applications either unavailable in their market or applications which simply don’t work properly. This in turn is going to create angry customers who blame developers for Google’s screw ups and Sprints inability to update the customer’s phone, if ever, in a timely manner.

    This clearly looks like a bad scenario where both developers and customers lose.

  • Dylan Andersen

    I, personally, don’t see it as a huge deal. First of all, the changes 1.6 bring to Android are not substantial enough that even the end consumer would notice. A new market and the new camera front-end (which is hideous by the way) are most noticeable. Sprint will eventually support OTA updates, and as we all know – sometimes they take a while to roll out. T-Mobile has been doing large OTA’s for years – look at their entire Sidekick update timeline. They’re used to it.

    Sprint rarely does OTA updates. Most people are used to plugging their phone into their computer via USB and updating that way. Look at the iPhone market. The average user who has no idea what the fuck they’re doing, now knows how to plug in their phone and figure it out.

  • jasonlee

    Not really the end of the world for sprint customers, i was never that savvy on manualy doing things with my phone until the recent months. One could go from noob to slightly more experianced like myself in no time. This is all part of owning an android, and in my opinion, what makes it fun on a day to day basis. Thank you cyanogen ;-)

  • BackInAction

    Isn’t this really a CDMA issue? I thought data and phone (talk) couldn’t be used at the same time with CDMA, which is probably why Sprint has the 10MB limit. Are there other current phones that support OTA with large “updates” on Sprint and/or VZW? How will VZW handle with with their version of the Hero and/or Sholes?

  • jk

    The Sholes is launching with 2.0 at the end of the month.

  • Trish

    A 10 MB limit you say?? The last Palm Pre WebOS update that was OTA was 70 MB!!! It took almost 20 minutes to download – not a crisis by any means!

    • Relic419

      The Pre update was directly from Palm, not Sprint.

  • Carl Withakay

    I’m scared, I’m about to get a Hero on Sunday and now I’m having second thoughts but I need a new phone sooooo bad. I’ve been waiting for too long

  • VicMatson

    Thank you Taylor. I’m wanting a Hero on Sunday, but I don’t trust Sprint. They could bat this back and forth for a year(2010). They did with my Sprint Touch with rev-a and GPS.

    Btw, I believe the Google search is improved too.

  • The_real_newman

    Shoot might have to root and get 1.6. If u want something done do it urself. That what I was always taught LOL

  • http://www.myspace.com/sandawgscorch SDsc_rch

    this isn’t good

    not good at all

    1.6 is out, we want it! HTC has an excuse (i “think”) – they got that sense UI that they need to know integrates — but samsung? c’mon – that’s stock android! what’s THEIR excuse??

    and… lets face it – OTA is the way to go – i mean, this is the 21st century, t-mo has done this HOW many times now?? c’mon!

  • brad

    I don’t see what a big deal it is to just update from your PC.

    Sometimes i wish i didnt have to sit around and wait for an OTA

    but i could see the problem with alot of people not doing it. Maybe they could have the phone keep popping up “you need to update” warnings

  • Kenneth Johansen

    Sprint has some nice phones. My nephue has a sprint phone. It has a better camera and camcorder. Sprint always had a bad coverage rep. I would nerer sign up with a company that doesn’t care after they sign you up with a contract. Phones are there business. You came a long way to let it slip away again.

  • Matt

    I wouldn’t pass on the Hero. I got mine yesterday (Best Buy Rewards Zone Member) and I’m in love with it. No reason to pass on this great phone because 1.6 won’t be available for a couple months.

    I’ve had an iPhone, I HAVE a Pre, and now I have the Hero. Hero gets the nod for me above all other phones.

    • Trish

      Matt – Just a question – you state you still have the Pre – I have a Pre also but want the Hero without paying full price for it. Did you do some creative line/phone switching to get the Hero? Just curious. I’m thinking about adding another line and getting the Hero through it then buying a lesser expensive phone to use on that line then just having the Pre around as a spare. Do you think that would work??

      • Mike

        Your pretty much screwed. You will have to wait 2 years (or 1 year if your a sprint premiere member). If you add another line to your account, you could qualify for the $180 offer but then you would be stuck paying for 2 lines. Im pretty sure if you want to close a line inside your 2 year contract, you still get early termination charged.

        This is why i didnt jump the gun with the Pre because i knew the hero was being released just a couple months later so i waited it out.

        • Trish

          Mike –
          I did add another line to my contract and through a corporate discount program I’m affiliated with I was able to purchase the Hero for only $30.00 – no typo – $30.00!! I swapped it out to my existing line that had the Pre on it and bought a used Samsung Instinct for the new line for my mother-in-law! She’s tickled pink just to have a touch screen! Everyone is happy!! Plus I feel a little more secure now that I have a ‘spare’ phone around – just in case….

    • Scott French

      I have a Pre too, and picking up my Hero Tomorrow, which I am extremely excited about. I had opened up a new line, which I already had a phone for last month, I got a new phone any how just for a backup. Now I am returning that phone and paying the 80 dollar difference to get the Hero. I will just have to switch back and forth between Pre and Hero to determine which Phone I want. I hope that the Hero syncs well with my exchange server…and I don’t have to enter in my pin every 3 minutes like I do on the pre…

  • http://www.phonenews.com/ Christopher Price

    I posted this comment in the previous article, but here it goes again:

    This information is completely bogus. The Sprint Hero already has a hybrid build based on 1.6.

    Sprint has always supported FOTA updates greater than 10 MB. They ship 100+ MB updates for the Palm Pre consistently. There is no SEBU policy barring updates over 10 MB, I don’t know where that rumor came from… but I’ll be happy to strike it down right now.

  • rizoh66

    Hahaha, Good luck everyone! Sprints sucks! Somethings going to happen with your phone and you’ll get pushed aside for the new customer signing 2 years of their life away. Yeah the hero is nice, but those stupid touch buttons on the front, no chin, the fact that its a sprint phone and now the ota issue is too much to make me change from the mt3g. Then again, I wouldn’t expect anything less from sprint. It sounds like their right on track with themselves.

    • NotSoSilent

      Sure, like any other provider take care of their customer after the contract is signed. I’ve been with Sprint for several years now and when ever I had issues with my phone they offered to repair it or replace it even without the insurance. Also Sprint is one of the providers out there who gives you a scaled ETF, where T-Mobile is $200 no matter how long you have left. No carrier is going to give you better service than the other, it comes down to the plan and price.

  • karl

    Got it yesterday, here’s what was installed:

    Firmware version: 1.5
    Baseband version:
    Kernel version: 2.6.27
    Build number: 1.29.651.1
    Software version: 1.29.651.1

    Rooted it following these instructions http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=533731

    Process went fine, but didn’t do my homework, and MoDaCo is built on 1.5 (lol). Phone could not connect to network. Rolled back with Nandroid, everything is back to OEM, works fine.

  • stevo

    do you guys think if and when we do get 1.6, we will have the same issue whith eclair(2.0) and so on and so forth comes out? with sprint and htc dragging there feet on updates, whatever the excuse maybe?

    • Ryan

      From the look of things, T-Mob will have the Eclair update long before sprint will have an available download on their website. We’ll test it it out for you and let you know how it goes. I agree with the other posts, Sprint just cares about the sale and once your signed up, they leave you in the dust…

  • Randy

    I wonder how many people even know what’s in 1.6 that are complaining. In the end, if the phone suits your needs, and you’re happy with it, no reason to whine.

  • http://soft.antonspaans.com Anton Spaans

    About most customers not really noticing whether their phone runs 1.5 or 1.6:

    Indeed, most won’t notice it directly. However, the underlying API, that developers use to write their apps (both SDK and NDK), changed quite a bit in places. This means that more and more apps won’t be available for Sprint subscribers on Android. I think they’ll start noticing that!

  • Mark Dzmura

    Below are the nominal differences between 1.5 and 1.6, according to Google’s Android Developers’ SDK.

    It would be really nice to know which 1.6 features (other than CDMA support) are included in the builds for HTC Hero and Samsung Moment.


    New User Features
    - Quick Search Box
    - New Camera/Camcorder UI
    - new Battery Usage Indicator
    - VPN, 802.1x
    - Android Market Updates and New Android Market UI
    - Expanded Search Framework
    - Text-to-speech engine “Pico”
    - New Gesture framework, GestureBuilder
    - New Accessibility framework and accessibility services
    - New version of OpenCore 2 media engine
    * Support for OpenMAX encoders
    * Support for additional audio codecs in AuthorEngine
    * Improved buffering model supports shared buffers allocated in the decoder

    - 2.6.29 Linux kernel

    New API Features:

    - Expanded support for screen densities and resolutions
    - Graphics – Classes in android.graphics now support scaling for different screen densities.
    - Telephony – New SmsManager and other classes for sending and receiving SMS messages.
    - Utilities – New DisplayMetrics fields for determining the density of the current device screen.

    - New Framework APIs – Added packages:
    * android.accessibilityservice
    * android.gesture
    * android.speech.tts
    * android.view.accessibility

    - Framework API’s – Changed Packages:
    * android
    * android.app
    * android.content
    * android.content.pm
    * android.content.res
    * android.graphics
    * android.graphics.drawable
    * android.hardware
    * android.inputmethodservice
    * android.location
    * android.media
    * android.net.wifi
    * android.opengl
    * android.os
    * android.provider
    * android.telephony
    * android.telephony.gsm
    * android.test
    * android.test.mock
    * android.text.style
    * android.util
    * android.view
    * android.view.animation
    * android.widget
    * java.lang
    * java.net
    * java.util

  • Anthony

    Sprint does OTA updates just fine. I also have a Pre and the last update was 87.7mb.

    • Sheil

      Man, for the last time, Sprint did not do the Palm Pre updates, it was Palm that performed those updates. Sprint had nothing to do with those. Palm used their OTA servers.

      • http://www.phonenews.com Humberto Saabedra

        You’re confusing things, Sheil. Palm rolls out the updates through Sprint’s internal lab known as SEBU for testing and final approval, then the lab pushes them out through Sprint’s servers for distribution over the air.

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