Why Would the Google Nexus 4 Ship with an Inactive LTE Chip?

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Google and LG have a hit on their hands, with the Nexus 4 phone selling out immediately on launch. The phone offers HSPA+, which is sometimes billed as “4G,” but does not support LTE, the more recognized 4G technology.

Nexus 4 by LGHowever, like pretty much every gadget that ships these days, someone did a teardown of the Nexus 4. In this case, iFixIt did the honors and found the Nexus 4 to be virtually identical to the Optimus G, LG’s LTE phone, including the same LTE chip.

In this case, the chip was disabled, but some wags have already figured out a workaround to get it working in some parts of the world.

LG issued a statement to the UK Website TechRadar and to Ars Technica, essentially saying that the LTE chip came as part of a bundle. “This powerful chipset is only available with a combined processor and modem and cannot be implemented separately. The modem contains 4G LTE capabilities but is only effective when combined with other essential hardware parts such as a signal amplifier and filter in order for it to work. It therefore cannot be upgraded to 4G LTE capability through software,” said a LG spokesperson.

The Optimus G and Nexus 4 both feature Qualcomm’s Snapdragon S4, which came as a package deal with the WTR1605L OVV PKK486R1 multiband LTE chip. The chips are rather tightly integrated and separating them to make a separate SKU would be expensive and time consuming. So for a phone like the Nexus 4, the cheapest solution is to simply deactivate the LTE.

Weird, But Not Unusual

As it turns out, this kind of integration of chips is commonplace, according to Will Strauss, principal analyst at Forward Concepts, who follows embedded chips.

“The history of the business is a lot of companies have shipped chipsets that do more than they were built to do because it would be too expensive to retool and build another chipset. They either flip a wire on the I/O pins or relabel it, downsize it and say ‘here, it’s cheaper’,” he said.

So the chipsets pretty much can’t be separated without a lot of retooling. Intel and AMD have done this for years. Intel’s Celeron chips had their cache disabled even though it was there in the silicon, and AMD’s triple-core CPUs were just quad-core CPUs with one core turned off.

“You sell what you got,” said Strauss. “This is what they had on the shelf and it was a cost effective way to do it. So I don’t see anything wrong with the approach. It makes a lot of sense business-wise.”

Additional Image:

Google Nexus 4 by LG

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