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It’s not often the bear growls. But I learned something today that made me angry. It appears that some of the n900s being sold by Vodaphone are carrying a branded, locked and otherwise knobbled version of the wonderful, open, free maemo firmware. I just can’t quite make up my mind whether I’m madder at Vodaphone for doing it or Nokia for letting them. Do you blame the choir-master for castrating the boy soprano “So he can sing for life” or the boy’s father who let him do it (for a price)?

So I need to rant about locking, branding and otherwise doing damage to phone firmware in the name of ‘customisation’. And this seems a good place to rant.

Locked phones: why do you need to lock the phone if you’re selling it me on contract? You have done a credit check on me, taken my bank details and made me sign that you can raid my bank account at regular intervals for the next 24 months and help yourself to whatever you see fit. If I want to challenge the amount you take, I will have a fight on my hands. You have me locked, there’s no need to lock my phone.

It’s not like I can afford to throw your sim card away and use another while I’m still paying you on a monthly basis – and even if I did why would you care? You still get my money. In fact, you’d be even better off if I had to continue paying you for calls while not using them.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who finds that the contract routinely outlives the phone. My last device lasted a mere 11 months into a 24 month contract before I drop-kicked it. So why lock the phone? By the time the contract is ended, the warranty on the phone is long gone, and I can just pay the chap at the market a tenner to unlock my device.

I can understand a little better the thinking behind locking pay-as-you-go phones. Except most payg purchasers pay almost, if not entirely all, of the purchase price of the phone. Locking makes no sense.

Branded firmware: You may think that your little bells and whistles are the best thing about using my phone. You know what? If Orange World, or Planet 3 were so good, I’d go browse them without you sticking links on the phone or making them my unchangeable home-page. They’re not. Forcing me to look at them is lazy, lazy marketing. I’m not going to buy from you just because you’re my provider: I will buy what’s best and most useful at the best price I can get it. It’s called ‘competition’. Shoving your ‘extras’ on my phone is anti-competitive.

And as for painting your logo on the casing? Believe me, if anyone ever got near enough to me and my phone to see that tiny little shiny mark on the phone, they wouldn’t be interested in which network I’m on.

Limiting facilities Why? Most ‘branded’ phone have their VOIP capacity disabled. Why? I’m already paying you for, say, 600 minutes/month cellphone calls. What does it matter to you whether I use them or not? If I prefer to make my calls via VOIP, why do you care? I pay for 500mb of data transfer per month – why is it acceptable for me to spend that on YouTube videos, email attachments or teddy-bear porn but not on VOIP? The moment I go over my so-called ‘fair use’ you will start billing me at exorbitant prices per mb... it might even be to your advantage if I use VOIP!

Power Because in the end, that’s what this is about. On Monday evening, Nokia released stage one of a major firmware update to the worldwide population of n900s. And all were happily updated. Except the Vodaphone ones. Because Vodaphone has, in its wisdom, decided not to allow its users access. Those lucky people able to get Voda-contracts with unbranded phones are fine. Those with slave-phones will be denied the update until Vodaphone sees fit – and with it the next, important update and access to the ovi store. Vodaphone is holding to itself power that rightly belongs with the customer.

Except this is Maemo: any user can change the firmware simply and easily. That’s because it’s linux-built – to empower the user. There are questions being asked about voiding warranties and the like, but there are n900s out there casting off their voda-chains and claiming liberty.

So somewhere in my anger I feel a tiny glimmer of hope: maybe the arrival of Maemo in the mass market signals the beginning of a new relationship between manufacturers, network providers and end users. A relationship where the very firmware itself determines who holds power – and it’s not the network.

But in the meanwhile the bear will go on growling. If I could just decide who I’m growling at.
Tags: ,

Whoever it was, nicely growled.

Thank you. :) How're you doing these days?

Not so bad. ;) I'd just caught your Twitter link to the post of the other day (about the firmware upgrade) and decided to add you over here, too.

Any idea/screenshot on the customization? I'm very curious...

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agr(rrr)ee on all points


2010-01-13 11:07 pm (UTC)

(except, maybe, phone branding; it's not a bad idea per se, from a marketing point of view: it reinforces brand recognition and loyalty at the subliminal level, when done properly.)

Anyway, I made the mistake of getting an E65 on contract from Vodafone a few years ago. The phone main selling points were VOIP integration (when wifi-enabled phones were still rare) and power-features for confcalls. Can you guess what Vodafone disabled in their version?

I can see where they come from (they sell such features to businesses at huge prices, giving them away to regular customers would be a risk), but it's borderline false advertising and it's a terrible, terrible practice that holds back entire consumer markets. Exactly what you would expect by big telcos.

This doesn't even compare with what orange did with i8910 (omnia HD).
They actually capped the wifi module, making it do drop connections, + the phone would automatically connect via orange internet.

As this wasn't enough, they didn't even bother to release firmware updates as i8910 was a real mess when it got released - they're still fixing it.
At the end of the day it all points to brain-dead users that actually use the carriers store to pay for... wallpapers :|... these users, unfortunately seem to be a statistically significant herd, that can be easily milked.
This is just an example of how branded firmware can destroy a device, If I were samsung, I'd sue.

However debranding is almost as old as carriers themselves ;))

As for N900, Is it your device? try maemo flasher, I don't think they've locked that out? or have they?

Try installed vanilla maemo


2010-01-14 12:38 am (UTC)

I would suggest trying to install the vanilla maemo from and let people know if it works alright. It should - if otherwise that would be a real reason to be very angry

Nicely written.

I've got a N900 myself and the ability to buy it without a contract was one of the things that made me decide to buy it. I'm also sick of locked phones (iPhone, Palm Pre).



I should probably have made it clear - this isn't about me. My Mo was one of the first production models out of the hutch from Nokia UK back in November.

To be honest, when I saw someone complaining they couldn't get the new update and wondering whether it was vodaphone I Just Couldn't Believe it. The very idea that Nokia would allow the branding of maemo firmware was just... well, somewhere betwen incredibly stupid and morally wrong. And my experience of the Finns is that they're neither. I can only guess Voda bribed them big time.

Everyone makes good points. I guess most people are as hacked off at these practices as I am. The sooner we persuade people to vote with their feet the better - but for most people the whole 'buy now, pay later' deal of putting the cost of your phone on the contract is appealing.

great post


2010-01-14 12:56 pm (UTC)

great post. Nokia are a business and i guess this was a condition of the profitable exclusivity deal made with Vodafone. I remember when i got the n95 from T-mobile and it took almost a year for t-mobile to release the latest firmware update which reduce memory usage and enabled auto-rotate! pita!

iirc, its not the first time. Nokia allowed something similar with either the N800 or N810 and a asian company.

Great post


2010-01-14 07:00 pm (UTC)

Can the locked phone be flashed with a generic firmware?

I mean, I'm either blaming the carrier or the user here, don't buy from carriers anything else than membership fees.

Nokia is putting the phone out there and selling it, and they're the first wanting to kill the carrier stores but they still need them in the meantime...

There's a lengthy debate going on over whether flashing with a generic firmware voids the warranty. Since both the flasher and the firmware are provided by Nokia, it's hard to answer with any clarity. A number of people are taking the line that if there's a problem, they would be likely to reflash anyway, and can revert. And if there's a hardware issue, then can revert - unless the damage is so great it's relevent anyway.

Like I said, the n900s are getting set free despite Vodaphone.

totally agree!!


2010-01-14 07:08 pm (UTC)

I gotta say i total agree with everythin ur i had a samsung tocco o2 contract be4 i got my nokia n900 and it was awful the most painful experience of a phone ever. bt i will say in someones defense wether its nokias of vodafone, my nokia n900 on contract wit vodafone is not brand, not locked and i can do everything that i wanna do without being forced to go on a vodafone website. this may be because i got mine from carphone warehouse and if wot ur sayin is rite then my advice would be to do the same, i wouldnt want vodafone to limit wot is such an amazing fone.

the whole idea is that you get your phone from the *operator* is flawed (or just plain evil). and those people who keep whining about subsidized phones (no phone should ever cost $500+! etc etc) usually do not really understand that is plain stupid to surrender your independence this way ;-)

Wooo! I totally agree with this!! But you keep talking about some provider called Vodaphone which I can't find any info about on the net. ;) cos it's Vodafone!

I bought mine on Vodafone through Carphone Warehouse here in UK and my firmware isn't branded and the phone isn't carrier locked either as it worked with my old O2 sim :) I'm guessing yours isn't from Voda UK then?

I hate branding..


2010-01-15 01:07 pm (UTC)

Which is why I have a 1month rolling sim-only contract and pay for my phones out right :)

Cheaper in the long run I think, plus you don't have a load of rubbish in your phone.

This is why I very nearly didn't go for the N900.

I can't afford to buy one outright, so a subsidised contract was the only way forward. If what you've said is true, I'm now really glad I went to the Carphone Warehouse and not to a Vodafone store. My N900 is, luckily, unlocked and ready to update to the new version of Maemo (when I get 'round to installing NSU later).

I'm totally in agreement - locking makes no sense. It's about time the UK moved to the stance of other countries where phone locking is either frowned upon or illegal.

Equally baffling is the continued use of the the PAC code system. Three made a small post some time ago about how number porting is so much better in Ireland; ask the network to port the number and it's done in a couple of hours, not the WEEK I had to wait for mine to finally switch over from T-Mobile.

The network infrastructure's fine, but the politics around it made me swear never to get another subsidised contract... a little late for that now though!

Edited at 2010-01-15 03:08 pm (UTC)

I have to admit that I am surprised how heavily vodafone must have customised it. Breaking standard nokia updates really is taking the p*ss. I wouldn't mind a vodafone theme, an a discrete vodafone badge in return for getting a subsidised device.

However, when you multiply the monthly charges you've really got to be a heavy user to get the full value from the contract, but disciplined to not go over the allocated service and get stung!
I've not been on contract in ten years, it's so easy to top up your PAYG service in the UK with a card - with Three you do it through web and My3, and it keeps costs down. I guess I'm lucky in that I don't need much data in the week as I'm office bound and it's "my" network infrastructure so I get to use the wifi how I want.

Good Work


2010-01-15 11:32 pm (UTC)

An italian translation of your growl @

Very Good Work!


Oh Wow! I am honoured! Thank you. :-)

Limiting facilities Why? Most ‘branded’ phone have their VOIP capacity disabled. Why? I’m already paying you for, say, 600 minutes/month cellphone calls. What does it matter to you whether I use them or not? If I prefer to make my calls via VOIP, why do you care? I pay for 500mb of data transfer per month – why is it acceptable for me to spend that on YouTube videos, email attachments or teddy-bear porn but not on VOIP? The moment I go over my so-called ‘fair use’ you will start billing me at exorbitant prices per mb... it might even be to your advantage if I use VOIP!

It's a very simple (and effective) marketing choice; since they are able to sell VOIP phones as well on the same market and you'll need at least two phones to take advantage of both services so they practically sell you the same device twice.

business rating services

lazy end users


2011-01-03 07:32 pm (UTC)

unfortunately most end users are too lazy to educate themselves in other to empower themselves.

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