Carriers will not block Windows Phone 7 updates


There has been a lot of confusion about the Windows Phone 7 update process after Paul Thurrott posted several quotes attributed to Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore who claimed last month during the NYC launch event that carriers will be able to block updates if the wanted to do so. First off I would like to say that I have no inside info or anything and this is just based on the info currently available and some logical thinking.

I don’t think that Carriers can or will block OS Windows Phone 7 updates. Why? Because they technically shouldn’t be able to do so given that everything is “owned” by Microsoft. Every update or notifications is done by Microsoft via their own server. But let’s get back to the basics first.

Here’s how the Update process looks like (also lookat the screenshot above):

As you can see even OEMs have to submit their Rom, updates or modifications to Microsoft’s Sustained Engineering team for testing and certification. It’s only then that Microsoft will either push the update notifications OTA to the phones targeted by this update or reject it. Users will then receive the OTA notification and be able to install it via the Zune software. Just to be clear: Updates will NEVER be done OTA. Contrary to what some MS reps said a while ago this was NEVER the plan. Those of us who bothered to read the internal document that was leaked back in February can clearly see that only update Notifications and Scanning are done OTA. Once this notification is accepted by the user the update process will be done via the Zune software. It’s even officialy explained on the Windows Phone 7 website here.

Now where does the carrier fit in this picture? Well no where because Mobile Operators don’t have any control over the final process. Just take the sim card out of your WP7 device and all the OTA services will work through Wifi thus bypassing the carrier network. Plug in your device and perform and update scan in Zune and this is what you will see:

As you can see only the OS version is apparently checked by the MS servers and nothing else.
Now let’s take a look at what Joe Belfiore supposedly said:

“We build an update for everyone, and certify them with carriers,”


“They’re on a regular cadence as they are on the PC. “


“If a carrier wants to stop an update, they can. But they will get it out on the next release.”

How exactly can the carrier ”Stop” this update given that they have Zero control over it ? All the carrier does is test it before MS pushes it and all I can think of is the carrier asking Microsoft to restrict the update to certain devices (because they found a bug or something and didn’t have time to fix the issue) resulting in some carrier branded phones not receiving the OTA notifications (and that’s if the MS server actually looks at the firmware version and not only the OS version as seen in the Zune software update section right now). This means that the so called “block” is done by Microsoft and not the carrier. But once again this doesn’t make much sense. Why would Microsoft not wait until all carriers are OK with the update before pushing it out. Remember that Mobile Operator don’t have much control over the Rom all they can do is add 60mb of apps in the ROM and add some Bookmarks in IE. Nothing else. Their applications are also handled similarly to every other third-party or OEM apps: it’s submitted to Microsoft for certification and then hosted in the Marketplace (on MS’s server). Once again, the Carrier doesn’t have any control and Microsoft owns everything. They decide when to publish something or not.

“Carriers could in fact block updates to sell you a phone. That can happen,” he said. “We don’t expect that to happen. We are not going to push updates onto carrier networks that they have not tested. Microsoft is being very trusting of the carriers here. It’s very different from the situation with Windows Mobile, where every phone was very different and a full test pass was required on every phone. Here, there’s no impact on OEM code, network code, etc. There are upgrades that will require a full test pass. Most will not.”

Still doesn’t make much sense. “We are not going to push updates on to carrier networks” ? Sure you don’t. Because nothing is ever pushed through the carried network. Like I said before: pop the SIM out and you get the exact same notifications because everything is pushed through Microsoft’s servers. Just think about the iPhone of the Nexus One. In both cases everything is hosted and controlled by Apple and Google. There are several builds of the updates (One for each iPhone models or regional localization for the Nexus One) and in both cases the carrier can’t do anything about this. As I said earlier if something is blocked, it is on Microsoft’s side if a carrier asks the company to not publish a build dedicated to a certain phone model/SKU.

Anyway, I’m not saying that I got it right here. I’m just trying to give you my opinion on this messy situation. BTW here’s Microsoft latest official statement (which I also heard during the Oct 11 launch):
Microsoft will push Windows Phone 7 software updates to end users and all Windows Phone 7 devices will be eligible for updates.

Microsoft controls everything…

  • Markbothwell

    Nice analysis. But I do think that it is likely that the OTA scan checks firmware as well as OS version. If that is the case, and if MS has a contract with the carriers that stipulates that the carrier can decide whether its devices will receive an update, then the MS server may decline to provide the update to my phone. This would be consistent with what Belfiore said. Either Belfiore doesn’t know what he is talking about, or carriers can block the download the update as described. Until I hear another MS exec say something to the contrary, I have to assume that Belfiore is not full of it, and that the carriers can block updates if they wish. You say that Microsoft controls everything. That is not true. Legal contracts control everything. Unless we know the terms of the contract, we know nothing.

  • MobileTechWorld

    Hi Mark,

    Like I said, Technically carriers can’t block anything. What they can do is basically ask MS not to push a build dedicated to a certain device. Because as I mentioned above everything is hosted by MS and nothing goes through the carrier’s network. And contrary to popular belief there’s no OTA updates possible on WP7 (only scan and notifications and both aren’t depend on the carrier either because they work in Wifi too). Joe’s wording is the problem here and also the fact that MS’s official statement has always been the same as quoted at the end of the post above. MS always told me that they will control everything when it comes to updates with WP7 (which they technically do). I admit that it needs some clarifications thought..

  • eric95c

    I’ve seen on Paul Thurrot website that the carrier can block 1 update but when the 2nd update will come, they will have no choice but to release the 1st one and the 2nd one to the phone. So it means that the carrier can’t block an update longer than the delay for having a new update.
    I’m posting the link above and hope it’s not forbidden, if it is, I’m sorry and please delete my comment :

  • MobileTechWorld

    Eric, I already linked to it at the beginning of the post :)

  • eric95c

    oh sorry, I didn’t see it. Thanks :)

  • Leon Zandman

    Oh, come on. You question the fact that carriers are bad guys? They are pure evil! As Paul Thurrott repeatedly says carriers have proven again and again they cannot be trusted and rather sell you a new phone (along with a new contract) than providing updates for existing devices.

    Microsoft clearly has some arrangements with certain carriers. Of course technically Microsoft can push any update (if it’s not OTA), but they are more than likely restricted to do so. At least for carrier provided / branded devices.

    A couple of years ago I had a Sony Ericsson mobile phone (I think it was the K700i). It had an update feature, that allowed for OS-updates, which was quite rare those days (it wasn’t a smart phone, but more a feature phone, which normally only gets updated by an official Service Center). I even bought a specific cable for it, so I was able to connect the phone to my PC. Fortunately for me I received some updates, but I knew some friends who had carrier-branded versions of that phone, didn’t receive ANY update. Clearly the update-process, technically fully controlled by Sony Ericsson, checked for carrier-specific OS versions and blocked them from updates.

    As for those OTA updates not happening. This is what Paul Thurrott says in his Windows Phone 7 review:

    “Based on my experience installing multiple updates over the past several months, I can tell you that updates smaller than 20 MB can occur, over the air, right on the device.”

    So, he has seen it happening. Of course this happened during the beta phase with prototype hardware. But I see no reason why Microsoft should have changed this. It could still be that Thurrott meant normal app updates instead of small OS-updates. Those app updates are are indeed possible OTA. So the final word on this hasn’t been spoken :-)

  • MobileTechWorld

    Hi Leon,
    I wasn’t trying to claim that Carriers are not bad guys (just look at the Samsung Galaxy S Froyo mess in the US..) but in this case they shouldn’t be blamed for everything..IMO. I just wanted to make it clear that Microsoft owned the whole update process and that it was up to Microsoft to prevent a specific device to receive the update notifications (if a carrier for some weird reason decided to ask them to do so). The general consensus all over the web after Paul’s post was that carriers where going to block the updates themselves and that MS was the poor guy who couldn’t to anything about this.
    As for OTA updates, it’s been official for a while that WP7 will only be updated via the Zune Desktop software. Just click on the Official FAQ link in the post, or if you have a WP7 device just go to the Phone Updates section in the settings and you will read: “Your phone will continue to regular check for updates, which you can install when you’re at your computer”.
    Here’s also Microsoft’s Program Manager for Windows Phone Update, Andrew Brown on the matter:
    “Brown: For our first version, we really wanted a consistent, reliable solution that our customers could trust 100%. Connecting to a computer and using the Zune client software for the update gives us several advantages, including a large screen for the update user interface, the ability to charge the phone while updating, and a full backup of the phone in case any problems occur. However, we’ve definitely been thinking ahead as we’ve designed and built our current process, so we won’t have to redo a lot of work in order to implement OTA capability in the future.”
    I know about the OTA and Zune updates test that where done during the beta phase as I had the opportunity to use several dev devices at the time… ;-)