US wireless carriers should get real with customers about software updates

Wireless carriers like to brag about two things: their network and their deals. Something you won’t often hear about is software updates. They were supposed to be easier than ever for Android device makers to deploy thanks to Project Treble framework, but when the phone is a model specific to an American carrier, it’ll have to be sent to the carrier for extra checks before it gets passed along to the consumer. But you do get the feeling sometimes that the telcos just don’t care, especially when major security patches from January only make it to your device in May. So, what gives?

Let’s start with the current state of play of how updates are disclosed in the United States, specifically with the Big Three.


AT&T is the most opaque about software updates. Users need to navigate the company’s wireless support pages, choose their device, then scroll down the list of topics to “System,” and then click on “Software Version.” The company discloses the latest OS version that applies to the device, but does not give any details about security patches. Navigating to redirects to a page which gladly tells you that your device is up to date. Not terribly useful.

Ma Bell used to detail software update histories for each devices, but have stopped doing that at some point, it seems.

Verizon is (a) second-best in this pool. Every device on its rolls has its own dedicated software update log. If you’re particularly confident and know the model name the company uses, you can take a crack at a straight URL input formatted as such: Otherwise, head to Support > Mobile > Device setup & support, select a device, then swipe your way down to Operating System & Software and hit “Device Name Software Update.” Yes, it’s a little confusing, but you do get a list of recent software updates including when they were released, the build number, the patch level, and OS version.

Tied for second — because neither deserve first in my opinion — is T-Mobile, which hosts a page dedicated to tracking devices as they go through the update process. Devices in the development stage indicate that the carrier and OEM have agreed to distribute a new update for the device and that work has started on the manufacturer’s end. The testing stage moves the ball into T-Mobile’s court and immediately precedes rollout. As of right now, the company’s benchmark lies with the Android 12 upgrade. The company used to also feature update stories, but it has since dropped them.

Things are bad. We know that. And we know it can be so better. In Canada, Telus meticulously maintains a list of devices, what the company is working on for each one whether it’s a security update or a full OS bump, and a target date for when things go live. Rogers, also up north, is another brand putting its name on the line. Fido and Koodo, too. And if you want to go down under, Vodafone’s got you covered in Australia, breaking down what to look forward to with the next big updates. How each carrier treats the schedule will vary and whether they hit the target dates they say they’re going to, well, it’s up to customers to keep the company accountable. And they do.

Of course, we think it’s important to have the whole picture — going forwards and backwards — to help inform consumers and let them piece together what they need to do to protect themselves from unaddressed security threats that could affect their phone use.

We’ve asked AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon about whether they will consider putting histories and schedules in place. We’ll update this story if we hear back.

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