Motorola has an LTE problem

Owners of the Motorola Xoom tablet on Verizon Wireless will now have to wait until September to upgrade their devices to LTE. When or if the long-delayed upgrade comes, it will be nearly seven months after the device first launched with the carrier. And customers will still have to take the archaic step of mailing their device to Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc. (MMI) to receive the upgrade. Then wait around six business days to get it back. I wonder what could go wrong.

Since the Android-powered Xoom launched five months ago, it’s been hard to find any logic in Motorola’s LTE strategy for this device. Motorola originally said the upgrade would be available in the second quarter and since then CEO Sanjay Jha has blamed ongoing delays on software performance issues.

At this rate, Motorola may not even get its act in order before the end of the current third quarter. A lot of things can happen in a quarter. For all intents and purposes, three short months can feel like an eternity in the fast-moving, ruthlessly competitive wireless industry.

Motorola got into the Android tablet game early and it had a great chance to be the first manufacturer with an LTE-equipped tablet, but instead it let that opportunity fall right through its fingers.

Come tomorrow, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. will gladly take those honors with the release of its LTE-packing Galaxy Tab 10.1. What could and should have been an industry first for Motorola has become Samsung’s. In an industry where firsts matter, Motorola is effectively taking its eyes of the ball and falling behind one of its strongest competitors. Worse yet, the company’s first LTE smartphone, the Droid Bionic, is still woefully delayed.

Motorola is in no position to be waiting in the on-deck circle. Following its split from Motorola Solutions Inc. (MSI) at the beginning of the year, the company has made some glaring mistakes. Motorola has a lot more runway than it did say a year or two ago, but by no means can it afford to play catch-up with the growing army of Android device makers.

Motorola is clearly struggling with LTE. It desperately needs to figure out the LTE question and while its previously announced devices sit and wait for prime time, it better be working on a series of even better devices to launch soon after.

The Droid Bionic and Xoom should have been ready to go (with LTE) as soon as Verizon fired up its LTE network, but instead they’ll be sharing shelf space with newer and more competitive choices. Both of these devices were first announced at the beginning of the year at the Consumer Electronics Show.

If three months is an eternity, six months is inexcusable. Just look at the company’s stock, which is down 18.2% to date. Let’s see what happens tomorrow when Motorola releases its earnings for the second quarter and no doubt answers questions about its failure to deliver on LTE so far.

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