AT&T Lumia 950 to get monthly updates in the first test of Windows as a Service

For a few months now, Windows Central has concluded that one of the reasons AT&T was chosen to carry the Lumia 950 over other US carriers was due to the flexibility afforded to Microsoft for OS updates. Windows 10 Mobile (like Windows 10 proper) relies on a steady flow of OS refreshes to improve the user experience. This concept – known as Windows as a Service (WaaS) – is already being proved with at least one OS update and now a new rolling out firmware update.

On Saturday, an AT&T support forum representative posted a statement reaffirming this position and adding substance to our earlier reporting. The news was quickly picked up by Reddit late last night. The AT&T rep known as Alison posted this response to a user regarding updates to the Lumia 950:

"The 950 will be receiving monthly WaaS (Windows as a Service) updates, and the latest one released on December 8th (Build Version 10.0.10586.29.) These updates are not certified by AT&T, and will be delivered via Microsoft over-the-air. A Wi-Fi connection is required. From the App List, scroll down and tap Settings > Phone Update > Check for Update."

Frankly, we were going to skip this story if for one reason: it's technically not official. Right below the statement from Alison is a disclaimer noting "I am an AT&T employee, and the postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent AT&T's position, strategies or opinions." That is a rather significant caveat meaning whatever Alison posts is non-binding. Nonetheless, the specificity in her language including using the technical 'WaaS' terminology suggests this statement is scripted and fairly representative of AT&T on this matter.

What changed and what about firmware?

Back at the beginning of December I wrote "Windows 10 Mobile updated for Lumia 950, Lumia 950 XL as carrier blocking may have just ended". I later clarified that Microsoft changed the architecture of the OS so that the radio stack is separate from the OS. Since carriers are only concerned with the radio stack working on their network, Microsoft has an easier task when they want to do an OS update.

The bigger question that still looms, however, is not so much OS updates but firmware. The current firmware that is rolling out globally – albeit slowly – does alter the radio stack. Will AT&T let that update through without any substantial delay? At this time, it is still too early to know as Microsoft is collecting data (telemetry) on the firmware update before going wider. Even their unlocked Lumia 950 XL dual SIM here in the US is not being updated yet.

At the very least, those who own a Lumia 950 on AT&T can be assured that monthly OS updates should be a typical experience. Then again, we've mostly known this for a few weeks now making this story interesting, but not ground breaking.

Source: AT&T Support Forums (opens in new tab); via Reddit

Daniel Rubino
Editor-in-chief

Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been here covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics and ran the projectors at movie theaters, which has done absolutely nothing for his career.

100 Comments
  • I wonder as a 950 xl on at&t's network I'll be able to get the firmware now. Still have not received it.
  • An unlocked Lumia 950 XL on AT&T's network has nothing to do with firmware or OS updates. An unlocked device brought to AT&T is still directly supported by Microsoft. Adding a SIM does not change that. An AT&T branded Lumia 950, however, does have specific carrier firmware on board, which makes it unique.
  • Thanks for clearing that for me Dan!
  • That's if they put a carrier version of the firmware.  Usually carriers will just get a special configuration profile but nothing should be embedded in the firmware itself.  All firmware has to go through carriers as it affects the radio stack.  If there's a problem with the radio stack the carriers start getting the phone calls about issues and it's a huge cost nightmare for them.  So firmware regardless of whether it's unique to a carrier will always be approved by carriers. 
  • It's true that carriers really only get a specific configuration profile and not a whole seperate firmware, but it is also true that the configuraiton profile is (maybe ironically) still distributed as part of the firmware package (caveat: have not verfified this is still true for W10M, but it seems likely).
  • Excellent post- couldn't agree more!!!
  • Except anyone can join the insider program and get OS update directly from MS
  • Or any other phone using W10. That's what I'm confused about. Does this apply to all phones using W10, including tech preview builds? Or is this just for phone released fro this point forward (i.e. 950 and beyond).
  • It is not clear. I would bet on the conservative approach of Lumia 950, Lumia 950 XL, Lumia 550 and soon Lumia 650 only. Microsoft is likely not going to test an OS update across all of their old Lumias. Nonetheless, it is a moot point as those users can clearly opt into the Insider program and get the same result.
  • I was thinking the same. In addition, the newer hardware will likely need continued firmware updates to give current and new users a better experience with the 950 series. It had a bit of a bumpy start, with battery drains and running hot. At least, that was an issue my son had with his phone, until the recent update.
  • I suspect that once W10 starts hitting the older devices they will get it like this as well. Once officially on 10 this will be the way forward. I saw posts here of folks using the insider program to get 10 and after a reset and not re-enrolling they also got the updates after 10586.0 at the same time as everyone else.
  • I just wish they would take this attitude with other windows phones not just the new flagshipmodels
  • Scaling support for older phones on such a scale is not a wise use of resources. Regardless, they did create an Insider program just for that making it a minor quibble, imo.
  • Went into my local AT&T store last week and they said that they will be carrying the XL pretty soon.
  • I've been telling people this :)
  • They had better not, those jackholes. I got the 950 thinking the XL want going to happen.
  • Once again, I have heard nor seen any indication that this would be the case. This rumor has been around ever since AT&T announced the 950 in October.
  • Hey Dan, is there an expectation or any need for future firmware updates to older models that were confirmed it otherwise advertised to get the "official" Win10Mobile release - eg. 640? Also, what would be the expectation in terms of build number upon release? I'll continue to stay in fast ring, but asking for colleges just getting the 640 experience and wondered if they can just wait on the official release instead of enrolling in the Insider Progam (not that there are any cons I can think of not to)
  • AT&T told me they would be carrying the XL by the time my contract with Verizon is up (1-10-16)
  • Firmware?  I haven't even received .36 yet.
  • I don't think anyone in the US has received the firmware update, locked or unlocked. Which tells me it could be quite a while before AT&T phones get it.
  • At&t well still control that part
  • How's this a rumor when the head guy at the AT&T store told me it's coming.
  • Seems legit.
  • This is why I hate ms, this is why I particularly won't support ms anymore in the mobile charta.
    You don't fluffin release an unfished mobile os to the public with the reason " yeah its a service. It will be better someday but not yet "
    That's why android is so good, because even tho is hat literally no security, its finished. That's why IOS ( not 8 tho.. Supid service thing only leaves unfinished and bugged OS' with ppl ) 5-7 were so great. Because they were perfect from the start.
    aa mobile os has to be finished at release.
    And never make it a service
  • I do not agree with your statement about Android in the least. Not only has that OS has some bad releases, but updates are still very, very problematic fo users with Motorola being a big offender. Even still, this "the OS is not finished" thing is temporary and ephemeral. You won't be saying the same thing in six months or a year from now making WaaS a much more interesting dynamic in the mobile industry. In that sense, I suggest looking beyond today and consider what this means long term. No one believes the that a Lumia 950 is going to "save" Microsoft. They are simply placeholders.
  • Android is so good because it's finished? I really hope you are joking. :-/ Also, the fact that W10 mobile wasn't finished has never, ever been a secret and anyone with sense or patience knows that any major new OS update (regardless of the company) needs a solid 3-6 months to iron out the most glaring bugs.
  • Android sucks dude. It's whole model is messed up.
  • Android has faaaaaar more problems than W10m and ioS. It even has OEM specific problems since Google provides absolutely no support for their OS.
  • With more than 80% market share globally, I reckon there are bound to be problems. Moreover, they seem to be doing well.
  • "Doing well" is not neccessarily related to a lack or presence of bugs in the OS.
  • Please tell me this was a troll post. Please. The world will no longer make sense to me if this was legitimate.
  • Dear god.  You lost all credibility when you used Adnroid as an example of being a "finished" OS.
  • More fluid, more finished, more polished than Windows 10 especially Marshmallow of which I am running on my Nexus 6P and 5.1.1 Lollipop. Even with Windows 8, my Lumia 640 feels outdated, old, childish and Windows 10 brings sophistication but still feels unpolished and just old. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android on my Frost Nexus 6P
  • You are comparing snapdragon 400 with 1GB RAM and snapdragon 810 with 3GB RAM..that too with something unfinished..
  • You're running Marshmallow on your 5.1.1 Lollipop? That's not a phone bro
  • Lol Posted via the Windows Central App for Nexus 5x
  • This was hilarious man
  • Lol Posted via the Windows Central App for Nexus 5x
  • What is "finished"? ​No OS is ever finished. Android will have updates. iOS will have updates. MS is just releasing smaller updates more frequently instead of holding them for a big major update all at once.
  • True Posted via the Windows Central App for Nexus 5x
  • True. Posted via the Windows Central App for Nexus 5x
  • I left Android specifically because my Motorola Atrix, which was supposed to be flagship, never got the update that was promised for a year!
  • I like that ATT won't block updates, but don't like the monthly update thing due to the inherent risk. I will likely skip several of them (if I ever get a 950).
  • "I will likely skip several of them (if I ever get a 950)."
    And how to you propose you skip? These are mandatory.
  • by not auto-installing updates/never turning on wi-fi?
  • I suspect microsoft wont allow that kind of an option. When you do finally update, previously uninstalled update will probabbly be included at that time, additin time to the update process. Your better of just to take them as they come.  
  • Better buy a feature phone if you plan on not using WiFi.
  • "by not auto-installing updates/never turning on wi-fi?"
    You have no choice regarding auto-installing updates. You have either (a) automatic installation or (b) Notifiy to schedule restart (which will still happen anyway within one week) Never turning on Wi-Fi seems like a rather extreme and unlikely scenerio for many users to 'skip' an update.
  • Oh man, I didn't know updates were forced. I do not like that at all if there is no rollback option. Very risky. I can't imagine any enterprise would be OK with this architecture.
  • Of course it's not risky.... Posted via the Windows Central App for Android on my Frost Nexus 6P
  • Windows Device Recovery Tool is your answer to the "rollback option." It's always there and with the previous update for just in case moments.
  • Yeah, but you have to save your files and settings to OneDrive, which I don't like. It's better than nothing, though. I wish they'd implement System Restore and/or backup to PC or USB disk. Ah well. I've grown accustomed to giving up my favorite features over the past 5 years, sadly.
  • Enterprise users probably will be able to control which updates they get, like in Windows 10 Pro for the desktop.
  • might be extreme. just explaining how it can be done, if one chooses not to
  • My problem with this WaaS thing is how terribly long updates take on the phones. iOS for example, the update process is very smooth and rather quick. With W10 these updates are excruciating slow.
  • Yeah, I can see it now. Avoids WiFi for 2 months, then finally needs to download a new game. The game is 800MB so needs WiFi. Logs into WiFi, and suddenly the phone grinds to a halt and unable to download the game until 2 months worth of updates download and install. How mad will that make a person? Likely to be frustrating if you try to dam up the stream.   
  • The reason for the firmware update not arriving is porbably because Microsoft employees are off on their holidays and wouldn't bother to go back to work on the 23rd just to push out a little firmware update and watch the telemetry.
  • The holidays most certainly play a role in all of this.
  • Not so much that they wouldnt bother - many would probably like to be back at work getting paid. Its a legal requirement because so many are classified as "contractors" or temp and not full time staff.
  • Still doesn't include firmware. New OS code on top of old firmware is good, but still no different that Windows Insider. Things won't be fully in sync with new code running atop non matching firmware. Step in the right direction, but not out of the woods yet IMO. Even though you give up VoLTE and VVM, an unlocked XL, directly supported by Microsoft (dodging all carrier "testing") is still the best bet, IMO.
  • Actually that disclaimer is a boiler plate disclaimer many companies require of their empoyees usuing social media in a manner that is related to their job, but not in an official or authorized manner. My employeer requiers the same thing (and Im in a different industry, rail transportation). I simply removed referencees to my employeer from my profile.
  • I think what Dan meant is that he is actually employed by AT&T and not Microsoft as being the big caveat.
  • Little bit of both. You cannot take what this rep says and throw it in AT&T's face as a legally binding agreement or position policy. AT&T can simply say this was a forum rep who had their information wrong and wipe their hands of it. I get it's "boiler plate" but it exists for a reason.
  • I guess I'll be waiting. I don't have any regrets about getting the 950 coming from my Icon. My icon felt more solid material wise but I get SD storage so that's a plus already.
  • Thanks for reporting this Daniel with reminder of your earlier reporting about the changes in the radio stack. I've laughed at other blogges tweets this morning that have now just discovered this change. One of those bloggers even recently interviewed a senior MS executive who mentioned, without going into the weeds about radio stacks, that is was changes in the OS that allowed MS to control updates. I guess he wasn't paying attention to his guest.
  • So will the 640/XL get the monthly updates when the official 10 is released?
  • Yes, when it gets the official 10 it certainly will.  My 640 and my wife's 635 both got the last update, because we had both enrolled in the Insider to get on W10M, but afterwards unenrolled from the program, and uninstalled it from the phones. Even though we were unable to get the updates when the Insiders got it, we did get the updates when the 950 got it, so we're quite happy with that. Microsoft is currently rolling out these WaaS updates to ALL Windows 10 Mobile worldwide, and not doing it by model number.  If you enroll into Insider to get what is there now, then unenroll, you can get on those regular updates now without having to wait for official. There will be no difference between getting there through Insider or Official other than WHEN you get to start using it.
  • Really. That's interesting Posted via the Windows Central App for Android on my Frost Nexus 6P
  • Sweet. I bought an unlocked 640 for my wife and put W10M .29 on it. (That's what Insider offered. I didn't bother trying for .36.) How does W10M behave on a 635, with it's 512 MB RAM (most versions of the model)?
  • You'd be surprised how well it works on a 635. I had mine sitting on 8.1 for a while and accidentally reloaded W10 10586.29. It's actually as smooth as my 640.
    It struggled with som earlier builds but right now, great.
  • I was actually the one who posted the question to the at&t help forum...tho the firmware update is what I asked about and that was the reply that I received..which did not entirely answer my question.. Good to know I don't have to wait on at&t for software updates tho
  • I welcome WaaS,  but will it just update apps, or it will be new OS builds? If the second happens, updates will be very time consuming and frustrating!
     
  • WaaS is about the OS, not the apps.
  • Sorry, i meant portions of the OS, and not the entire OS every time right?
  • Apps can update any time they want. There have never been restrictions on app updates. This is the OS, which means MS can now add features that integrate deep in the OS on a monthly basis.
  • I hope so... because i do not feel like updating the entire OS every month
  • Making my 950 more stable is all I need.
  • What sort of problems are you having? Mine is very reliable. Maybe a problem with one app I'd messing you up?
  • I have