Win 10 Mobile OS vs Firmware, and how updates will be delivered

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rhapdog

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This thread is intended to explain the types of updates that can occur for Windows 10 Mobile devices and how those updates will be delivered/received, and what party will be approving those updates to send them out to the end user, as well as answer some frequently asked questions about upgrading to and updating of Windows 10 Mobile.

If you don't fully understand the difference between Operating System updates and Firmware updates, and why Microsoft controls one, but not the other, then see the explanation here.

First, let's get some common Q&A out of the way. I'll break each of these into separate posts to keep from losing people, because not everyone is going to want to read every item, and some explanations get into a bit of detail. Each numbered FAQ is a link to the post with the answer.
1. I'm running Windows Phone 8.1. When will I be upgraded to Windows 10 Mobile?
2. Will my existing phone require a firmware update to operate correctly with Windows 10 Mobile?
3. How can I get on Windows 10 Mobile early without having to wait?
4. If I'm on the Insider program for Windows 10 Mobile, and I leave the program so that I no longer receive Insider builds, will I still get normal Windows 10 Mobile updates?
5. What does Microsoft mean by WaaS (Windows as a Service) and who controls whether or not my Windows 10 Mobile device will receive updates?
6. Why does Microsoft say they will control the updates without carrier interference, but I can't get my firmware update?
7. Can the carriers interfere with my OS updates once I'm on Windows 10 Mobile?
8. I have a carrier unlocked phone. Will I get firmware updates directly from Microsoft without carrier intervention?

See also:
What is Firmware and why do I need it with my Windows 10 Mobile device?
 
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rhapdog

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1. I'm running Windows Phone 8.1. When will I be upgraded to Windows 10 Mobile?

First, it all depends on the device you are running as to the time-table. There is no set date and time revealed to users, but if your device is on the list to be upgraded by Microsoft, and if you have an international unlocked phone (not a carrier phone), then Microsoft will be able to send the upgrade out to you without carrier interference once Microsoft feels it is ready for your device.

If you have a phone that is tied to your carrier, that is a carrier phone purchased through the carrier with the carrier specific firmware, then you will have to wait for that carrier's approval before your phone will be upgraded to Windows 10 Mobile. Not all carriers are approving upgrades to Windows 10 Mobile for all Windows Phones.

There is a list started here about phones that will not be upgraded due to either OEM non-participation, carrier obstruction, or hardware limitations.

Hardware limitations are generally the ones with 4GB of storage. Some carriers are refusing to upgrade certain models or any of their models, and there are some manufacturers with Windows Phones that are refusing to participate in the upgrade by not providing Microsoft with the copy of the ROM for their system should something go wrong with the upgrade and it needs to be rolled back, or they may be holding back drivers that are necessary. Without the safety net, Microsoft will not upgrade your phone. See that post for further info.

There is a nice little chart on another site that projects time tables for the roll-out, but the December 2015 has already been pushed back, and I'm sure the other dates will as well.
 
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rhapdog

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2. Will my existing phone require a firmware update to operate correctly with Windows 10 Mobile?

No. The firmware is a "go between" handler between the Operating System and the physical hardware in the device. It only needs updating if there is a bug found within it. It doesn't need to be changed out for a different OS, as it is independent of the OS.

Although, if your phone was needing a firmware update to fix performance issues or bugs in the firmware before the Windows 10 Mobile update, then it will likely still need it.
 

rhapdog

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3. How can I get on Windows 10 Mobile early without having to wait?

Enroll in the Windows Insider program. Just download the Windows Insider app from the Windows Store, open it, Get Preview Builds, register if required, and download/install.

Windows Insider (Phone)

Once you've upgraded, you can leave the program from the Windows Insider app, and you'll no longer get preview builds. That means you'll remain only on the stable builds that Microsoft releases to the general public. That's right, you'll get the monthly Windows as a Service (WaaS) updates just like every other official Windows 10 Mobile user.
 
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rhapdog

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4. If I'm on the Insider program for Windows 10 Mobile, and I leave the program so that I no longer receive Insider builds, will I still get normal Windows 10 Mobile updates?

As stated in the post directly above, once you've upgraded, you can leave the program from the Windows Insider app, and you'll no longer get preview builds. That means you'll remain only on the stable builds that Microsoft releases to the general public. That's right, you'll get the monthly Windows as a Service (WaaS) updates just like every other official Windows 10 Mobile user.
 
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rhapdog

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5. What does Microsoft mean by WaaS (Windows as a Service) and who controls whether or not my Windows 10 Mobile device will receive updates?

Windows as a service means (source)
once a Windows device is upgraded to Windows 10, we will continue to keep it current for the supported lifetime of the device – at no cost. With Windows 10, the experience will evolve and get even better over time. We’ll deliver new features when they’re ready, not waiting for the next major release. We think of Windows as a Service

Now, for Windows as a Service (WaaS) to work, Microsoft has to be able to push out the Operating System updates regularly.

Things you need to know:
  • Carriers cannot obstruct, slow down, or stop the updates.
  • End users (you) cannot prevent the updates from happening.

For Operating System updates, (firmware is discussed separately in this topic), Microsoft will have complete control. That control is over the carriers and over manufacturers. That means if you get a phone from Acer, HP, LG, or any other manufacturer that already runs Windows 10 Mobile, it will get updates for the OS from Microsoft directly over the air.
 
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rhapdog

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6. Why does Microsoft say they will control the updates without carrier interference, but I can't get my firmware update?

First, you need to understand what the difference is between a Firmware update and an Operating System update, and why one is not like the other.

See this post in order to get a more complete explanation.

The simple answer is that firmware updates affect the radio, or at least have the possibility of affecting the radio. This falls under the Carrier's control due to legal issues, which I won't go into here because it will just make this post way too complicated. When a carrier decides to "carry" a phone, they do extensive testing to be sure that the radios will work properly on their towers. Any subsequent changes to the firmware require carrier approval.

Operating System updates do not affect how the radios function or perform, so Microsoft is able to bypass the carriers for this.
 
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rhapdog

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7. Can the carriers interfere with my OS updates once I'm on Windows 10 Mobile?

No. Since the Operating System makes no changes to how the radios function, they are unable to stop the updates. Microsoft can push out Windows 10 Mobile updates at will, and those updates, since they are no longer tied to the firmware, will go out to ALL Windows 10 Mobile devices at once. That means you won't get them for one model one week, another model the next, then wait a few months for the next model. They will roll out the same day. The only exception may be is that Microsoft may choose to do a staggered update, which means certain regions will get it first, then it will roll out around the globe over the next few days, just to be sure an update doesn't overload the internet.
 
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rhapdog

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8. I have a carrier unlocked phone. Will I get firmware updates directly from Microsoft without carrier intervention?

You'll get the Windows 10 Mobile OS updates, but not the firmware updates unless the carrier approves. Unlocking the phone allows you to use it on a different carrier, but it is still a carrier phone tied to the carrier's firmware. That firmware can't be changed without carrier approval.

You need to have a phone that is unlocked by the manufacturer and not tied to a carrier in order to get firmware updates directly from Microsoft. An example would be the Lumia 950XL sold unlocked by Microsoft.

If you see a phone that says, "Lumia 950 for AT&T", then it has the AT&T firmware and will need AT&T approval in order to get firmware updates even if it is SIM unlocked and is in use on another carrier.
 
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rhapdog

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If you don't fully understand the difference between Operating System updates and Firmware updates, and why Microsoft controls one, but not the other, then see the explanation here.

Firmware is a low level code that sits between the hardware and the software, hence the name. The Software, in this case the Windows 10 Mobile Operating System, talks to the firmware directly in order to perform functions with the hardware. The firmware then translates that to the physical hardware.

For more details of what firmware is, see the next post.

When you upgrade the OS, it does not tinker with the firmware area, and the firmware stays intact. One of the functions of the firmware tells the device how to find the OS when it is turned on, and loads the OS.

The firmware does control talking to the hardware, which includes radios. Anytime the radio coding is changed, carriers need to make sure it is still working adequately on their systems before they will approve it. Any time you make changes to computer code to one part of a program, it can have an adverse effect on another part of a program, introducing bugs. Therefore, when you fix a bug in the proximity sensor, it may have an effect on the function of the radio so it has to be tested. Ask any developer and you'll see this is true, as crazy as it sounds. This is an over-simplification, but it's basically how it works, and I'm trying not to get too technical. Those who understand technical probably don't need the explanation. ;)

So, in summation, Microsoft can control the Windows 10 Mobile OS updates because it won't affect the radios.

However, Microsoft can only control the firmware updates on phones that are manufactured by Microsoft and factory unlocked. Factory unlocked meaning not branded to a carrier. Carrier branded phones must have firmware updates approved by a carrier.

Microsoft cannot update firmware to phones made by other manufacturers like Blu, LG, HP, Acer, Samsung, etc. This is because firmware is coded by the manufacturer for the specific hardware in the phone. It is up to each individual manufacturer to provide firmware for each model.

Firmware updates are not always required. They are only needed to fix bugs that are found in the firmware or to add functionality that was omitted originally, but that the hardware can support.

When you see a firmware update that claims to "improve stability and camera performance" for a particular phone model, there is no need to wonder why they won't release it for other models. Firmware is coded per phone model, and it is released to fix bugs in that particular model. Other models may not be affected, so there is no need for concern.
 
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rhapdog

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What is Firmware and why do I need it with my Windows 10 Mobile device?

Firmware is the low level code that tells the Operating System HOW to talk to the actual hardware devices, like the camera, the GPU, CPU, Display, and it also includes Bluetooth, FM Radio, LTE, GSM, CDMA and other radio bands as supported by the hardware specific to a particular device. The 4K video problem was an issue with an error with the Windows 10 Mobile OS unable to properly communicate with the GPU, because of an error in the Firmware. Same with automatic brightness, SD card (hardware that needs firmware to communicate with it), etc.

Firmware in a phone is like the BIOS in a Laptop or Desktop PC. The BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) contains the low level code that lets an Operating System talk to the actual hardware of the device. Without it, the OS cannot talk to the CPU, GPU, Storage, RAM, Cameras, or anything else that is hardware built into the system board. External devices that you plug in are different, and just require OS drivers. Anything built into the SOC and original hardware will require this low level code.
 
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rhapdog

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This is insanely helpful, maybe it will cut down on the redundant posts on the issues above.

That's the idea. However, I don't think people will stop asking questions about it right away. The main idea here is for users who know about this thread be able to link to the appropriate "FAQ" item above in order to answer some of those questions raging around the forums. It's a good way to give an accurate answer without having to rehash and argue over it for 6 pages of forum threads.
 

Chintan Gohel

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This is a great post and thank you for this.

I had an issue. According to some websites including MS I believe https://www.microsoft.com/en/mobile/windows10/, phones that would get windows 10 mobile need to have denim update

I have already written about this before : http://forums.windowscentral.com/windows-10-mobile-insider-preview/386920-we-need-denim-update-get-windows-mobile-10-a.html

From the research I did 24 countries haven't received denim update for 12 models of lumias. The models range from 520 to 1520 and have the 20, 25, 30 and 35 series. Carrier issues only affect US while in the rest of countries the phones are unlocked but not receiving updates

What will become of the general users who cannot upgrade to denim and hence windows 10 mobile? Is there a way besides reverting to insider program to get the updates?

This is a serious issue and it affects a great number of people I believe. From what I can see it is region specific as Asian nations are on denim but a lot of South American and African countries are behind for some models without any concrete reason
 

costas60

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What happens to the firmware if you bought the phone unlocked
(phone was not unlocked from any carrier)
how will we get firmware update
 
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