That Chromebook Pixel with LTE might work with other mobile networks after all


When deciding on which Chromebook Pixel model to buy, I opted for the higher priced version with integrated LTE. I got double the flash storage over the Wi-Fi only model as well, but I would have paid the $150 premium just for the LTE feature. Generally, I have an abundant supply of Wi-Fi so the LTE radio — and free 100 MB of monthly data — is mainly for backup connectivity and for travel.

Pixel LTE VerizonBut there’s a big downside to the Pixel with regards to the LTE radio. Unlike most LTE devices, the Pixel can’t fall back to a slower network when an LTE signal can’t be found.

Basically, if you’re not in an LTE coverage area — on Verizon’s network, specifically — you’d better find a hotspot, use your phone’s internet connection or be prepared to work offline. Even though the last option is improving with improved support for Packaged Apps that work offline, it’s a shame the Pixel is so dependent on one carrier’s singular network option. Or is it?

Fellow Chromebook Pixel owner John Freml, from the Pocketables enthusiast site, noted a Google+ post from Ian Ray with interesting information. It turns out the mobile broadband radio used in the Pixel isn’t using its full capabilities; likely by design for now. Freml notes that the wireless card is a Novetel Expdite E362, which works with other broadband networks in some cases:

Powered by Qualcomm® MDM9600 chipset, the Expedite E362 offers high performance to the user on LTE 700 MHz with global fallback to CDMA and HSPA+/UMTS … the small Expedite E362 module leverages the LTE, CDMA, and HSPA+/UMTS networks. Switching between networks enables your customers to work, play, and stay connected anytime, anywhere worldwide.

The Qualcomm baseband chip Freml points out is similar to one used in the iPad with LTE, and that certainly supports fall-back to other 3G networks, so there’s hope.

Of course, without seeing the internals of a Pixel, it’s difficult to confirm. And the right antenna and amplifier support would be needed. But if all of the puzzle pieces are there, it’s possible that a software update could enable fall-back features or even add support for your choice of carrier on a Chromebook Pixel with LTE.

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