Zero-rated Android upgrades in the pipeline

Leaf International Communications, distributors of of HTC products in South Africa, have been critcised from HTC Android handset owners for the tardiness of Android operating system updates.

Managing Director of Leaf, Quinton Leigh, confirmed that the delays for the HTC Hero and Desire handsets have been caused by the implementation of a system to deliver updates over the air (OTA) that won’t incur data charges.

“There’s no reason to charge a customer for a ROM upgrade,” said Leigh. “We have to zero-rate the [firmware] OTA updates.”

The new Consumer Protection Act is also a factor they have to consider going forward, Leigh said.

Leigh confirmed that Leaf had tried to get their hands on an update that could be deployed from a PC but said that it was no longer an option.

He said the issue wasn’t that Android devices weren’t capable of being updated from a PC, but that the worldwide update strategy from Google is OTA and nothing else.

Leigh said that they were in agreement with Google’s reasoning. By way of example he mentioned the pitfalls of conventional PC-based upgrades which could leave a device “bricked” (useless) if it lost power or its connection to the PC during an upgrade.

Launch date

To make zero-rated firmware OTA (FOTA) possible the operators need to agree to it and the required infrastructure needs to be put in place. Leigh explained that Leaf had already met with all the operators and that the system’s deployment is held up only by the zero-rating agreements and setup of local servers to host the updates.

“We’re a couple of months behind in South Africa, but it is coming,” Leigh said. He added that getting all the agreements and servers in place would be a 2-4 week process.

Asked about whether it wouldn’t have been sufficient to just deploy the updates in the same way as it had been done in places like the USA, Leigh explained that South Africa’s bandwidth caps are a consideration customers in the US don’t really have.

Simply displaying a confirmation box with a warning about the size of the download isn’t sufficient in South Africa. If an Android user in the United States doesn’t want to use his/her mobile broadband bandwidth they can connect via Wi-Fi to cheap, plentiful wired Internet bandwidth, he said.

“Leaked” Desire update

There have been numerous reports from South African HTC Desire users receiving an update to Android 2.2 “Froyo” over the weekend and early this week.

Leigh said that this would only be possible for users who didn’t purchase their phones in South Africa. There are users that were able to update their phones that assert that they obtained their phones through operators such as Vodacom and MTN, however.

If these reports are accurate it could suggest that the FOTA systems were being tested during the times that the updates were available or that some devices sold by operators point at international update servers.

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Zero-rated Android upgrades in the pipeline