15-07-2009 21:21 - edited 13-10-2009 17:17
There are lots of myths and misunderstandings about phone software, and you don't need to search far on this forum to see the issues that can be caused, so this post will try to answer the common questions.
What is Operator Variant / Branded phone software?
In many markets, mobile network operators dominate the sale of mobile phones, and their power in the market gives them the leverage to demand changes to the phones that they sell. Branding may include unique colour schemes for outer casings, logos on cases, default themes showing the network logo and using network colours, changes to the phone software to remove features, change features or add extra features, and in some cases different pre-installed applications.
What features might be missing?
Common ommissions in branded phones are features for which the network makes no money. For example, some networks including Vodafone removed VOIP capabilities from their versions of the N95 in many markets because they preferred their customers to make chargeable GSM calls instead. Another good example is the American network AT&T, which removes the voice-dialling feature of phones in favour of its own network-based service which requires a monthly subscription.
You will often also find that the section of the S60 Settings Wizard that deals with settings for MMS and internet access points is also missing, making it difficult for people who switch to other networks to reconfigure their phones for the new provider.
Who changes the software?
You often see people saying that "(operator name) changes the software...", but this isn't strictly true - your operator doesn't open every box and change the software before selling you the phone, they provide a list of their required modifications to the phone manufacturer before they accept to place any orders, and the modified (or branded) software is then presented back to the network for approval, after which orders are placed - the phone leaves the factory in its branded state, and in many cases in a SIM-locked state.
Why can't I update?
The network holds intellectual rights to the branded software, and just as they approve the changes in the initial version before they begin to sell any particular model, they also exercise the right to approve software updates before the manufacturer can release them. This often causes delays to software releases, and can even prevent software releases. For example, our old friends the Orange and T-mobile groups hit N95 owners by refusing to approve v20 for their branded versions at a time when N-Gage gaming was being relaunched, meaning that N95 users couldn't meet the minimum software requirements to run N-Gage software.
It is common for networks to stop approving updates after they stop selling a particular model, as they no longer see any profit in supporting the handset any more. Some networks, and any customers of the Hutchinson 3G group around the world will testify to this, seldom approve any updates at all. If you have a problem related to software and call your network for support, expect to be told that the problem is a delay on the part of the manufacturer, but this common excuse is simply untrue - the manufacturer can only release updates for branded phones when it receives network approval.
Why does branded software cause so many problems?
This one you'll never get an official answer to, because the phone manufacturers and mobile networks walk a fine line in their professional relationships, but my educated guess is that the manufacturer doesn't extensively test modified operator-variant software because since the network needs to give approval, it is assumed they will test that the changes meet their requirements and work correctly. The network likewise doesn't fully test the software because it assumes that the manufacturer has done it - classic lack of communication.
Can I remove branding and install the standard Nokia software?
Strictly speaking, No. There are plenty of people on the internet ready to tell you how to do it and provide software to help, but anything you do yourself is an unauthorised change that will invalidate the warranty. You risk causing additional damage to an expensive phone and losing support to repair it.
It is known that you can have this officially changed by a Nokia service point or Flagship store, provided that any SIM-lock has already been officially removed by the network, and in some cases that the network provides written consent for this change; the phone would be changed to a generic product code, the software reflashed, and if completed properly, a new product information label will be put in the battery compartment reflecting the change. However, we also know from this forum that not all service points offer this service, and in some countries the local Nokia head office does not permit it.
It's my phone, I bought it, I own it, I can do as I please!
Yes, and no. Network operators and retailers are guilty of not warning customers that their product is a modified version rather than an original version, but at the end of the day you have paid for and accepted a branded phone. In order to benefit from the support of the device warranty, any work has to be carried out by an authorised person, just like any other product from calculators to cars.
Edit: one of my trademark typos corrected.