When it comes right down to it, there’s a pretty short list of things everybody simply expects a cell phone to be able to do well: making and receiving calls and text messages. We must be able to trust that our phones aren’t failing at the most basic types of communication. Unfortunately, some people have found that the Nexus 5 can’t always be trusted to let them know when somebody is calling or texting them.
There aren’t a lot of variations in the complaints for this one. At seemingly random times, the Nexus 5 will simply cease to respond to incoming calls or text messages. The connectivity indicators in the status bar and quick settings panel will show bars and data will continue to flow normally. In fact, there are absolutely zero outward signs that anything has gone wrong.
To complicate things further, the problem rights itself as soon as the Nexus 5 is used to make a call or send a text. Once connectivity is restored, the overdue SMS messages and voicemails will come flooding in.
Since Wi-Fi and cellular data are typically unaffected (in most complaints), Google Voice users are often alerted to a voicemail without ever receiving a call. This is how many people first realized something was wrong.
Who Is Affected?
As far as the complaints go, this appears to be specific to the Nexus 5. Some similar reports have popped up regarding the Nexus 4, but most of them look more like an older Bug Watch where the handset dropped all communication with the cell tower.
There also seems to be no specific connection to carriers either. The majority of complaints seem to come from Sprint and T-Mobile customers, but almost every recognizable carrier across North America and Europe has been named in one forum or another. Strangely, AT&T was hardly mentioned.
The specific triggers for this bug are pretty tough to pin down. There seem to be 3 common elements to most stories:
It’s hard to say that this is all it takes, and there are certainly some people that are still experiencing the bug without necessarily having all of these things happen at once, so nothing is particularly certain.
Several theories have been proposed throughout different forums. The usual suspects are there, like buggy drivers and interference between the cellular and Wi-Fi radios. Among the less commonly named targets are trouble with switching towers or a potentially buggy feature called Fast Dormancy.
Unfortunately, the bug is unpredictable and no single set of circumstances is entirely consistent, so it’s hard to nail down a single issue.
The workarounds aren’t exactly painless, but they aren’t too bad, either. There are several minor variations mentioned throughout several threads, but they all boil down to a pair of options.
Disable LTE - I hate to mention it, since everybody loves a faster connection, but LTE seems to be a key component of the problem. Most of the people that have disabled it are finding that their calls and texts are reliable again. In most cases, this just means dropping back to some variant of HSPA or 3G. Simply go to Settings -> (Wireless & Networks) More -> Mobile Networks -> Preferred network type -> change it to 3G.
Disable Wi-Fi (sorta) - Wi-Fi is the other half of the equation, at least since it’s a bit unrealistic to keep the phone awake 100% of the time. Of course, shutting down Wi-Fi permanently isn’t a viable option for most of us. As an alternative to the nuclear option, it’s possible just to turn off Wi-Fi when the phone goes to sleep. This results in a little bit more data usage and a short delay before reconnecting to an access point, but it’s not too much to sacrifice. Just go into Settings -> Wi-Fi -> (menu) -> Advanced -> Keep Wi-Fi on during sleep -> change it to Never.
There Might Be A Fix Coming
There’s no specific schedule, but there are indicators that some sort of a fix is in the pipeline. It started back in early December when Paul, a Community Manager on the Android Consumer Products team, began reaching out to specific people for bug reports. After the holidays passed, and most of January, a few people started to get responses from LG and Google suggesting that a fix had been developed and would be rolling out in an OTA.
No schedule was given, and there is no certainty that the update is necessarily going to resolve this problem, but it appears credible after Paul confirmed (marked as best answer) the response from LG. If this turns out to be accurate, it would indicate that the bug was related to a driver issue for the Nexus 5.
There’s no denying, this is a truly critical issue. Cell phones (and pagers) owe much of their early success to people that recognized important calls can come at any time. Nobody wants to risk missing a potential client, a text from somebody close, or the call to say your child is about to be born.
Let’s be fair, things like this are bound to happen from time to time, especially in gadgets as complex as modern smartphones. That is forgivable, assuming it’s a very rare occurrence. What really matters is how the issue is handled once it is recognized. The first complaint on the Nexus forum was on December 2nd and direct collection of bug reports began a week later. That’s not a bad initial response time. However, it took 6 weeks for news of a fix to leak out, and another month has passed without an update.
Now that Nexus devices are no longer the exclusive domain of developers and enthusiasts, it’s time that they receive the same attention that all consumer devices should. I certainly hope that issues like this don’t happen again; but if they do, they should be handled with more transparency, and certainly more urgency than this.