Google’s Nexus 4 and the importance of LTE.

The new Google flagship phone is nearly upon us, and I’m thoroughly excited about its release. The hardware looks amazing, the specs appear astounding, and the prospect of owning a “pure Google” device is always so enticing.

But as I browse the web looking up reviews and first impressions, I can’t help but notice just how loud the critics are when it comes to the lack of LTE on this device. We’ve already read about why Google decided to leave LTE out of the Nexus 4, but I want to discuss the implications of such a move.

I’ve been back and forth on this issue, mostly leaning on the side of “it’s no big deal.” After all, the device is capable of 42Mbps HSPA+ speeds, which is close enough to LTE to fall very comfortably within the category of 4G. In fact, average HSPA+ speeds on T-Mobile turned out to be faster than what Verizon’s and AT&T’s LTE networks can reach (granted, much of that has to do with the saturation of their networks, and theoretically it’s impossible for HSPA+ to reach LTE speeds, but practically, LTE is not leaps and bounds ahead of HSPA+ and won’t be for a while). So for me, the lack of LTE isn’t a big deal. I understand Google’s position, and it’s clear they can’t just bully the carriers around like Apple can, which is why Apple can retain control over the iPhone while building three completely different versions: two CDMA versions, one for Sprint and one for Verizon, and a GSM version for AT&T.

And to do what Google is doing with the Nexus 4—offering it completely unlocked—requires that they design and build just one version of the phone that will be compatible with as many networks as possible. And that means no LTE.

Despite my own insouciance regarding LTE, I still think this could prove a problem for Google. Why? Well, I know that, practically speaking, 4G LTE and 4G HSPA+ don’t exhibit a whole lot of real-world differences in terms of network speed. Like this guy, I don’t really see the need (currently) for the Nexus to have an LTE radio. (I do concede, however, that LTE is the way of the future, and it’s only a matter of time before it’s the network standard here in the US.)

Here’s the problem: the average consumer doesn’t know that. To the average consumer, LTE is a huge selling point. And the fact that Google’s flagship phone is shipping without an LTE radio is a big deal for most people in the States.

Do I think the phone will sell well? Absolutely. But I don’t think it will compete well with the iPhone 5, which is unfortunate because the Nexus 4 is a much more capable device in almost every way (except battery it seems). If Google were somehow able to include LTE on this device, I think it would sell far better than it will without LTE.

Will I buy this phone? Most definitely. And I’ll probably recommend it to all my friends who are using a GSM network. And I’ll continue to tell people that HSPA+ is currently sufficient, so don’t go nuts trying to make sure you have an LTE-capable device. But unfortunately carriers are really pushing their LTE networks, tech websites are writing about the importance of LTE, and all that noise about LTE makes it seem as though it’s the must-have feature of the year. Probably not. In two years? Possibly. Certainly in five years. Now, if Google had released the Nexus without any 4G capability, that would have been a major oversight and a flaw I’d be decrying. But the phone is 4G-capable. Just not the 4G that the US market thinks it should have right now.

Here’s the thing: Google is touting the Nexus 4 as an international phone. To the rest of the world, LTE is either relatively unimportant or a pipe dream. Unless Google changes their strategy (which I highly doubt) we probably won’t see LTE on the Nexus 4 anytime soon, and we likely won’t see Google include an LTE radio on any Nexus device until an LTE standard across multiple carriers can be developed.

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