Mobile // Mobile Devices
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2/13/2012
04:17 PM
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Don't Panic: Android's Not Dropping CDMA Support

A minor code comment in Google's source tree could lead to some drastically wrong conclusions about Android's future support for CDMA.

It's a little one liner buried on the Android source code web pages. If you're reading quickly, you might miss it there on http://source.android.com/source/building-devices.html: "No CDMA devices are supported."

Wait, what? Excuse me?

Android
When the first Android code was released, there was no support for CDMA. The first CDMA implementations were not far behind, though, and vendors contributed code to the Android open source code base. Android phones on the Verizon CDMA network were popular and did very well; in fact, they continue to do quite well.

Why in the world would Google suddenly abandon CDMA?

Is Google going to orphan all those carriers? What is Verizon going to do for its newer phones? If my current Droid RAZR is in an area will poor or absent 4G LTE coverage, it fails over to 3G CDMA. Will future phones not be able to do that?

Are we gaining insight into how things will go at Motorola Mobility once the soon-to-be-completed Google acquisition closes, any day now? Will a new Google-run Motorola no longer make CDMA devices?

Stop the (digital) presses! CDMA is getting demoted to cellular second class citizen! A vast sea change in the cellular business is upon us!

Or... not.

Unfortunately for those that enjoy the dramatic, the reality of this bit of news seems to be considerably more mundane.

The above one-liner really says that the Android CDMA support is no longer in the open source domain. This isn't much of a surprise when you come right down to it, and it actually makes perfect sense.

Inside of the Android architecture is a block called the RIL, or Radio Interface Layer. Each network provider has to implement an RIL daemon and a vendor RIL library to implement vendor-specific (read: network-specific) plumbing to make a phone both work and play well on a particular network.

So why would you put code specific to just one vendor into the open source domain? Is it code that can't be used in other networks? Code that might be proprietary?

According to a source inside a US-based producer of cell phones that is about to be acquired by Google: "You wouldn't."

The code base mentioned in source.android.com is perfectly capable of being used on CDMA, as long as the individual vendor adds their own code for CDMA support. The LTE-enabled Motorola XOOM and the WiFi-only Motorola XOOM, for example, are definitely not two completely different implementations. The LTE version includes Motorola code to implement the LTE and CDMA capable RILs -- code that is, again, not in the open source domain.

CDMA still lives on Android.

Conclusion: Nothing to see here, folks. Move along...

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