If you're the happy owner of a 2015 Moto E, a pretty solid phone, you may also be a T-Mobile subscriber. You may have also bought the phone relying on the fact that it had a key forward-looking feature for the network - support for LTE on band 12. T-Mobile is the only national network here in America currently utilizing band 12 LTE (regional operator US Cellular being the next largest), and support for that band is key in congested metro regions, where its low 700MHz frequency provides superior building penetration and increased capacity for the network.
Well, in the latest update to the Moto E (Android 5.1) way back when, Motorola removed support for band 12 LTE from the device completely - and they're pointing the finger at T-Mobile. Here's a response from an official Motorola poster on the Moto support forums quoted on reddit a month ago:
Thanks for providing these details. It is true that Band 12 support was removed with the update to Android 5.1. This was a carrier requirement over concerns about Band 12 connections by phones that are not capable of VoLTE. On non-VoLTE phones like the MOTO E, your phone could even show you have a signal, but would be unable to complete a call. At this point, there is no plan to change or address Band 12 support on the Moto E.
At least a couple of you have indicated that without Band 12, the Moto E doesn't meet your needs. If that's the case, please email me at [email protected] and include a link to this thread and your Reddit username and I will see what we can do.
If this were an isolated incident, it might seem easy enough to write this off as a support person doing what support people do (speaking out of their rear ends), just trying to get a thread closed. Except the Moto G 2015 has recently had band 12 removed from its spec page, as well. And: that same Motorola employee (Tom) was seen posting on the Moto forums and Reddit recently, and he can't even confirm the upcoming 2015 Moto X Pure Edition (aka Moto X Style) will support band 12. That's not exactly encouraging.
The thing is, it's not just Motorola. We've heard from another major device manufacturer that they, too, are being asked by T-Mobile to turn off band 12 LTE on an unlocked LTE smartphone they sell in the US, and that this OEM will comply with that request as part of an OTA software update. We've reached out to other manufacturers to see if they're aware of this situation, but have not yet received additional confirmation.
The reasoning provided by Motorola support is simple enough, but we're not sure why it necessitates stripping out band 12 entirely. The explanation is that T-Mobile's band 12 makes phone calls over LTE only, meaning Voice over LTE must be supported by the end handset if that band 12 connection is to be able to complete calls. If there is no secondary band to drop back to (which could happen, since band 12 reaches quite far), a user on band 12 may encounter a situation where they have full LTE signal and data connectivity but are unable to make a phone call (such as a 911 call, which to be fair, would be bad). Why this is a problem requiring the complete removal of band 12 support from some end devices, though, isn't clear. Couldn't such situations be handled on the back-end with a handoff to a compatible roaming partner if emergency services were needed? Isn't that the whole freaking point of E911? Will devices like HTC's unlocked One M9 (which does have VoLTE), the OnePlus 2 (which may get VoLTE), and Alcatel's OneTouch Idol 3 (
which does not have VoLTE at all correction: Idol 3 may have VoLTE, though it's unclear if it works on T-Mobile) continue to support T-Mobile band 12 down the road? Again, we're left scratching our heads.
We've reached out to T-Mobile on numerous channels about this issue and have yet to receive a reply. We hope T-Mobile can provide some clarity on this issue, because it isn't exactly a great experience for subscribers when the phone they've purchased doesn't work on the network they use in the way they expect - especially if they get reduced network functionality as part of a later update. That's just not cool.