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Here is how Microsoft can push OS updates to Windows 10 Mobile without carriers now (and forever)

The reason for the excitement yesterday was the release of Windows 10 Mobile build 10586.29 to the Lumia 550, Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL including on AT&T, which came as a surprise.

Interestingly, the update itself is rather ho-hum with no new features, but a few important under the hood fixes. Most users are reporting better standby battery life, improved Bluetooth compatibility and a more enjoyable Edge experience. But let's be clear: there is nothing dramatic, dire, or security-related about this update that would require an emergency release. No, this is a standard cumulative update released on Patch Tuesday just like it was for the Windows 10 desktop.

Interestingly, both desktop and mobile were updated and are now on the same build. That is also another seminal moment as Windows 10 is truly just one operating system.

So why did carriers not hold up the update? Microsoft has been a bit coy on the process and carrier involvement. The only statement they have on the matter is one from earlier in the year:

"Microsoft is working closely with mobile operators to leverage their testing and our flighting to meet and exceed current quality bars. We will use their input but will decide when to send the updates out based on input from mobile operators and our Windows Insiders."

The standard reading of that is Microsoft can bypass carriers although those same carriers do have a seat at the table too. However, that statement didn't go so far as to sideline them completely either.

The other part of this is whether or not this was a one-time exception for AT&T or will we see a regular cadence of updates.

What's different in Windows 10 Mobile

Yesterday, Windows and Devices Executive Vice President Terry Myerson also Tweeted this bit:

"Big day, first update worldwide (and more to come) to all phones running #Windows10 - same build as PC!"

The "more to come" is the important part, but it is not the crux of why things are now different with Windows 10 Mobile. Here is why this OS is dissimilar from Windows Phone 8.1.

A few people knowledgeable about the matter tell me that the radio stack is basically "blackboxed" in Windows 10 Mobile. As one person explained it:

"…the non-radio stack has been almost completely isolated from the radio stack (before the BSP contained a lot more "system" components); carriers need to test and certify updates that touch the radio stack, but MS can do the rest without their involvement."

Another person also mentioned how BlackBerry's BB10 OS was the first to do this, but now Windows 10 Mobile also shares the same OS architecture.

On the face of it, this all makes sense. If you are making 'one OS to rule them all' you want to develop all overlapping components for phone and PC, but keep the radio stack separate as it plays no part. Carving out the differences between the phone and PC builds lets Microsoft co-develop more of the OS, streamlining the process.

Taking this into account and things become a lot clearer. Windows 10 Mobile and Windows as a Service (WaaS) can go forward because the OS can be updated without any changes to the radio stack.

Carriers –especially in the US – claim to fear that a "rogue" update to phones could cause network instability. Of course, to my knowledge, this has never happened. Regardless, this is one of the reasons why carriers exert control over OS updates in the first place. If something is touching their network, they want to test that it meets their standards. With Windows 10 Mobile, once the phone is approved for the network by the carrier Microsoft can keep rolling out 'patch' updates to the OS and not get permission each time.

But what about...

Assuming this new architecture is accurate - and we believe it is - there are a few questions and caveats that remain, including:

  • Firmware - It is not yet clear what role firmware updates play in the Windows as a Service model for Windows 10 Mobile. So far, Windows Phones seem to be doing quite well without the need for special updates to the firmware. In fact, it looks like Microsoft offloaded a lot from the firmware into the OS component, which is why they can deliver new features through the OS in the first place. However, there is a firmware element, and it is not yet clear if carriers will need to approve those. Then again, considering how rare firmware updates are these days, this may be less of a big deal.
  • 8.1 upgrades to Windows 10 Mobile - Interestingly, once a phone is on Windows 10 Mobile it appears to be a hands-off experience for carriers. But the process to get an 8.1 phone to Windows 10 Mobile does not appear to be so easy as just updating an in-situ Windows 10 Mobile OS. Here we are presuming that the radio components are changed with this update, expected to start this month, and carriers need to approve that initial step just like before. This process is why "upgrades" to Windows 10 Mobile are less definite carriers still play the gatekeeper role. (Obviously, unlocked phones do not fall into this quandary).
  • Why no Verizon, etc.? - What is also not clear is what role, if any, did any of this play in getting the Lumia 950 and Lumia 950 XL on certain carriers. I have speculated in the past that Microsoft may have gone with AT&T due to the carrier agreeing to let them have more free reign with updates. However, the model described above dilutes that argument a bit since presumably carriers perceive a lower risk. On the other hand, carriers could still not oppose such an upgrade system if they are stringent on testing. Whether WaaS and Windows 10 Mobile played a part in any of this is still unclear, but it cannot be ruled out either. I think Microsoft does not want any Lumia "left behind" with Windows 10 Mobile making it a non-negotiable demand to carriers. Plausible alternative argument: Carriers just don't care about Windows Phones and passed.

The question to the firmware update should be answered in the coming months as the Lumia 550, Lumia 950, and Lumia 950 XL being to mature. Luckily, if you have been a part of the Insider program, you may have noticed that Microsoft can do a lot just through OS updates and no firmware including bringing back Hey Cortana for supported hardware.

A big step forward

While there has been speculation and careful readings of what Microsoft has stated about OS updates the proof is what happened yesterday with a global rollout of a cumulative update to Windows 10 and Windows 10 Mobile. This vision by Microsoft has been talked about, but it many ways December 8, 2015, was the moment where it all came together.

I do agree that we'll have to see just how often these updates are pushed to mobile to really prove the model, but, at least, Myerson's "more to come" suggests this is not a one-off. Indeed, many Windows Phone users are skeptical of AT&T who has blocked Lumia updates in the past, so the burden is on them. If the AT&T Lumia 950 continues to get updates and it keeps in sync with its non-carrier version then things are truly different.

That is not to say there have not been issues either, as we reported some Lumia 950's were unable to get yesterday's update (or even on the Insider program). There is no doubt that Microsoft will be collecting and dissecting a lot of analytics over this and other updates to improve the process going forward.

The bottom line is that Windows 10 Mobile and regular OS updates now appears to be a real thing. Yesterday was but one step in that direction, and we'll be watching closely in the following months to see if what we described here is the strategy going forward. For Microsoft fans, however, this looks to be the hallelujah moment we have all been waiting for.

Daniel Rubino
Executive Editor

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

  • Looks promising:)
  • Yeah. I want MS to push the updates themselves then waiting for carriers to do it like will take forever!
  • Things stepping in right direction.!! Windows 10 surely a changer.!! Better late than never .! This thing is great just like apple has control over the updates .! Microsoft can now too !! :)
  • I just got my boss to accept a new mobile for me! I'm gonna be back on wp on a 950 xl and I can't wait.. This has been said before, but the unity of windows 10 across devices is what has to be done and I will do everything in my power (buy wp) to let this happen!
    I love the whole windows 10 mindzet.. Go Microsoft!!! Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • Except for Verizon. I agree that "WaaS and Windows 10 Mobile played a part in" the problems with Verizon. But I also believe that MS can get around this.
  • Blame that Verizon thing.
  • But playing hard ball may be part of getting around that. The fact that they kept this generation off Verizon might show that they're serious and won't budge, and Verizon might be willing to make a deal next year.
  • LOL
  • Ya..
  • Need help: How to update my L1320 using windows device recovery tool from xxx.11 to xxx.29?
    installing via OTA isn't happening because of less internal memory. WDRC says I've the latest software version but it's not..
  • Try running the Insiders preview app again. Delete any map data and move as many apps etc to an SD card to free up space. You may need to delete some apps still to free up space but you can always reinstall them again after the update. Hope this helps
  • Thanks..
    I've done everything I could.
  • Then buy a new phone with more internal memory ;)
  • Lesson learnt. My next one will have more internal memory..
  • Absolutely promising! This is been a dream long time ago, to make phones updatable without carriers intervention. The only problem left is that some carriers that are purposely not supporting the platform, which is another story. Looks like Microsoft joins the bandwagon of Apple to make supported phones updatable without delays (or significant delays). Great for Windows phone users! The only left Microsoft to do now is to keep polishing W10M until it reached or surpassed WP8 in terms of polish and reliability.
  • So the question is, should I update my 925 to Win10Mobile? If so, how? I'm assuming if production phones are getting updates than it's ready for primetime -- but how can I do this? I'm an unlocked Lumia 925 on T-Mobile running Cyan currently. 
  • Insider program? It's the same OS, same build.
  • More to come??
  • What about specific device drivers? Is there an issue now after the merger?
  • And if you're worried about potential instability from preview builds then now is the perfect time because the preview build is the same as in the wild. You can upgrade and then opt out of the Insider program immediately after; you'll keep the update but won't get any new ones until the official Lumia 925 build comes out for your device.
  • @Daniel Rubino ..
    Pls provide a link for that wallpaper..
  • Even I want that wallpaper
  • Can I update though the inside program without doing a hard reset? I've got a lot of music that I'd like to keep and not re-download. It's the only thing stopping me from updating to 10.
  • Yes, but it's not 100% guaranteed to work (a few builds back had a bug that corrupted SD cards for some). In addition, performance might take a hit (but this is up for debate, and hopefully shouldn't be an issue when it goes public). Can you backup the files to a computer or SD card?
  • All the music is on an SD card, it's a mixture of my music which is backed-up and xbox music pass. I just don't want to go though getting it all back on my phone. I'm think I'm going to wait until the carrier release, or until I just get bored and update anyway.
  • Just unplug it?
  • I didn't do a hard reset and it works fine. L930.
  • Same - 930
  • Great article! Take that Paul! I was with your theory all the way yesterday and it looks like this is proof you were right!
  • I know. He has been such a negative nancy recently.
  • Are you asking him or telling him? ;P
  • Is it really 100% the same? Look at the version numbers in Insider app > About. The performance is likely not the same considering insiders are sharing more info with MS.
  • Does this mean that the recovery tools will have Windows 10 Mobile images instead of having to go back to 8.1?
  • Lock screen wallpaper pls...? :)
  • Daniel, I own the Lumia 950, and this latest update became available to download.  However, it never does and eventually tells me that I am low on storage.  It is using less than 6GB, of the 29GB available.  I don't understand.  In addition there are 4 other downloads, for Groove, etc, that will not download either.  In addition, my phone gets steadily warmer while sitting idle to the point that I turn it off to let it cool down.  The three times I have restarted it, the low storage message shows, and when I cancel it, and let the phone sit, it gets warmer and warmer again. I am taking it back to ATT in the morning.  Is there anthing you can advise me to correct the issue.  I would be grateful if I could hear from you, or anyone else that may have a solution for me. Thank you. It has been a fantastic phone!!    
  • hmmm, someone just experienced the same (a lot of space but download won't start and stays at zero) and i adviced him to use storage sense and transfer all native apps to the sd card. he didn't reset and started the update once more and luckily it just went through and finish. don't know what happened but something in there triggered or updated the mass memory to accept data  downloads once more. didn't experience this on mine though.  
  • emma0, thank you.  However, I went back to storage and when I try to move everything that will go to an SD card, I get error 0x80073d0b.  At least I was able to charge the phone this morning without it heating up.  Everytime I tried last night it got warmer than I have been used to.  I now have 7 apps in the que to download, also, that won't download, giving me error 0x80246016.  It is interseting that last night I WAS able to move apps to the SD card.  It is ridiculous that I have over 23GB of storage availableand getting this error.  I sure hope ATT can help me!!  Perhaps .29 ceases trting to update, and that is why my phone temperature is back to normal.
  • I had the same problem where it would sit on 0% download, get hot and show that low storage warning. It did not show that warning until I tried to download the update, also got very hot while it was sitting there for the update. I did try to do the download over 4G instead of wireless, when I got home I rebooted my 950, went to the update page and left the app open. After awhile it began to download and install. The update completed sucessfully and I no longer recieved the low storage message and my 950 no longer got hot. Hope this help.
  • Thanks gumbedamit. Unfortunately after an ATT person played with for awhile, the update become not available for some reason.  when checking for update, it says I am up to date, but I am on 0, no.29.  So I'm resetting my phone . . .bummer. Also, the ATT guy went to his demo, and started the download.  I bet he will be sorry he did that, because it did the same thing and was getting hot,  I left the store before I saw waht he was going to do.
  • An update to my issue last evening.  This morning I was able to charge my 950 without overheating.  However, when I go the store there are now 7 apps that have error messages. 0x80246016.  If I go to phone update again, I am afraid it wll again try to update.29, tell me I am low on storage, and overheat my phone.  Please,somebody help me.  Thank you.
  • I had the exact same issue. So I reset my device (via About > Reset) and then didn't restore from a backup. I updated straight away to build 10586.29. No low storage issues at all, or warnings. Then reset my phone again and restored from backup.  Without the update the 950Xl is a frustrating device to use. Following the update it's much much improved.
  • Bigsro, thank you. I actually did a reset just to todays date.  That way worked too, apps redownloaded at the same time .29 was downloading and installing.  I guess the pain and time involved could've been worse.
  • You can try updating through the insider program. The insider builds are very stable at this point. I'm running 10586 on a Lumia 735 without any problems, and I have a Classmate running the same build on his Lumia 925 daily driver. Hence, I think you can do take this route without any problems.
  • I've updated my T-Mobile 925 to Win10Mobile and - other than a bit of lag and battery drain - there's really no issue.  And those two problems have been reported on a large number of handsets.  The latest update to x.29 has really helped.
  • Yeah, updated my 925 two updates ago and same things, lag and battery drain. But otherwise I've had no issues at all. I was hesitant to do it until they got closer to their "release" build, but you won't regret it because you'll be able to take advantage of all these universal apps coming out. I had to roll back to 8.1 during the upgrade process at one point and it went fine. Give it a shot!
  • I am running my 925 enrolled in Fast Ring and it is very stable as of the last build prior to yesterday's release. At this point I would feel confident using it as a primary device.
  • If you haven't done it already, then I'm assuming you aren't looking to be a beta tester so I would say no, **** no (edit: "he ll" is tha naughty of a word WC?).  It is very slow and buggy as **** still.   Home page will seem fine but once you start using it, you will notice the slowlness, the constant app crashes, regular failure of things like the camera, trying to share images to text, etc etc etc etc.  Then there is Outlook and the rest of the Window Phone/Android split personality that is Windows 10 phone.   That of ocurse is what it is but the stability and speed on 925 is still really bad at this point.
  • If you haven't done it already, then I'm assuming you aren't looking to be a beta tester so I would say no, **** now.  It is very slow and buggy as **** still.   Home page will seem fine but once you start using it, you will notice the slowlness, the constant app crashes, regular failure of things like the camera, trying to share images to text, etc etc etc etc.  Then there is Outlook and the rest of the Window Phone/Android split personality that is Windows 10 phone.   That of course is what it is but the stability and speed on 925 is still really bad at this point.
  • If you haven't done it already, then I'm assuming you aren't looking to be a beta tester so I would say no, **** no.  It is very slow and buggy as **** still.   Home page will seem fine but once you start using it, you will notice the slowlness, the constant app crashes, regular failure of things like the camera, trying to share images to text, etc etc etc etc.  Then there is Outlook and the rest of the Window Phone/Android split personality that is Windows 10 phone.   That of course is what it is but the stability and speed on 925 is still really bad at this point.
  • Can't wait to get some W10M love on my 1520!
  • Do it, already have it on mine thru the insider app, and works fine, just not in par with wp8.1 in terms of performance but really close
  • India never had any Carrier issues... Still it was delayed during 8.1 cyan n denim .. Haven't revived update 2 yet .. Happy to see that .. Hope 1 red launch button will be global for same devices...
  • Totally forgot about update 2!What happened?
  • Some devices like 640, blu and htc m8 got it. It was never supposed to released for older Lumia phones.
  • The delay was due to firmware for country variants. Cyan, Denim, etc. are firmware releases. This article talks about OS updates, since firmware updates are now very rare, and mostly unnecessary now.
  • The x20 generation NEEDs a firmware update because it's really bad to go all the way to Cyan when you have to restore your phone. I want to restore the phone directly to W10M.
  • @WesleyBPeres, once the rom is available via the recovery tool you will be able to do just that.
  • I still can't get the update on my 950XL. Apparently a fix is in the works.
  • I have a Lumia 735 in the UK (as my main phone)... Is it worth jumping on the Insider Program to upgrade to W10m or should I wait until it is officially released?
  • My doubt exactly. When's the eta on w10m update for wp8.1 devices? Should I just enroll in the insider preview as Daniel says its the same os same build anyways to all w10m devices officially?
  • Insider program is running same version as desktop. That means insider is very stable. So yes
  • My next question would be, if I decide to upgrade... Should I treat it as if the OS will wipe and format my phone? Or will it be a 'safe' upgrade like Windows 10 is from 8...
  • Safe upgrade
  • Thanks.
  • As a 735 owner, you'll be getting Windows 10 officially through Microsoft, I believe even in the first wave of models to receive it OTA. As a general consumer myself, I personally would just wait for that as you know you'll be getting it anyway. Up to you, though, at the end of the day.
  • I assure you can get this build ( 10586.29 ) as the OS for your main phone..
    I'm using Windows 10 as an Insider from 1st Build on my Lumia 730 Dual Sim Mobile ..
    & At present I'm not experiencing any major issues with this build..
  • Fortunately it appears easy to update, because it is in need of lots of updates yet. I just reverted all 7 of my phones back to 8.1 and will wait until it matures a bit more. My guess is that many carriers will do the same.
  • You have 7 Windows phones?! This man here is the biggest Windows fan. Kudos to you, sir.
  • I was waiting, but became impatient and stuck W10M on my UK CV Lumia 640. Everything working perfectly. Don't delete any apps if you can help it, because some of those apps may not be available on W10M. I deleted O2 priority app, which you can't get on W10M store just yet.... ******!
  • Well I have decided to take the plunge and it is currently installing... Fingers crossed all goes well...
  • Using W10m on a Lumia 735 in the UK on O2. Would highly recommend it. Only complaint I`ve had is with Edge, but this has been fixed with the latest update.
  • This made me not configure my new Lumia 950 XL for Insider Builds because of initial concerns with update frequency with carriers involved. It is very encouraging that the mobile OS is essentially going to be just like Windows Update on the desktop, Patch Tuesday and all.
  • Seems faster... W10 has been surprisingly stable on my HTC OneM8!
  • MUCH SLOWER on my Lumia 1020. Very unstable.
  • Really? Like what?
  • Like running on a dual-core CPU from 2013 kind of slow.
  • What this dual-core nonsense has to do with OS performance, especially if supported with 2GB of RAM. Sure there are some processor hungry apps that will use advantage of more cores or higher freq. but OS itself???
  • The photos app for example. In WP8.1 the photos app is instant. In Windows 10 Mobile it takes a long time to open and when you try to pinch to zoom in a photo, it will freeze for 15 seconds.
  • Keeping finger crossed to get the windows 10 update today on my Lumia 830 :)
  • I'm going back to att if they step back. They have awesome service. Phone issues have been my only issues with them in the past (though borking IS on my 1020 is pretty offensive). T-Mobile service isn't there yet sad to say.
  • Just a friendly reminder that you don't have to use AT&T phones to have AT&T service. Just buy the phone unlocked and stick in your AT&T sim. Buying your phones off contract works out cheaper in the grand scheme of things. And if you'd prefer to pay in portions, my crystal ball tells me that there's a 99% chance of you getting a 0% interest offer amongst your daily junk mail soon. :D
  • Great but can't update still as its not showing...
  • How does apple do? N why doesn't unlocked phone update not spoil their so called network??
  • This is an old question that has been answered for many, many, many, many years. Apple got special deals with carriers to have full control. End of story.
  • And unlocked phone not messing the network??
  • That whole messing with the network thing is just their lame excuse. GSM technology eliminates the need for network specific tailoring. That's why you can take any GSM phone and put your SIM card in and their network doesn't implode.   CDMA is a bit of an exception, and Verizon originally denied the iPhone because of that, but they later caved when they realized how well it took off.   Usually the carriers are subtly adding other tweaks while they "test." For example, on Windows Phone, one of the early behind the scenes things that AT&T added was configuring the phone to auto-connect to open wifi hotspots. Another common enhancement is to detect the use of unauthorized tethering by silently changing the APN info used when internet sharing is enabled. Part of the reason why carriers were a lot more eager to approve WP8.1 over the other updates is that Microsoft baked in many of these tweaks at the OS level. So they were more eager to approve this.
  • Try telling that to the dimwits at bce wireless they still want you to register imei off contract phones
  • Lol there have been times its just the isheep collective downplay it on multiplatform tech media sites
  • Can we have a 'Hallelujah'?!
  • Sure, indeed!
  • They cry for flagships. Then, they buy carrier locked phones. And then, they cry for the quick updates. Story of America.
  • North America*
  • Yeah. By America I Meant North.
  • Because not many people can afford dropping $600+ on a "flagship" phone.  But thanks for bringing your anti America bs into it.. .dirtbag 
  • And, yet, you're paying that and more when you buy through the carrier. Why not just save up? Oh, yeah, most most people now require instant gratification. Smh...