AT&T confirms that Microsoft can bypass carriers with Windows 10 Mobile updates

Kip Kniskern

Fragmentation, or the inability to keep smartphones updated with the latest operating system updates, has been a significant problem for both Windows phones and Android. Windows phone users in particular have been frustrated by months long or more delays by mobile carriers for operating system updates with Windows Phone, with some of those updates carrying needed bug fixes. Microsoft has been working on ways to improve their ability to update Windows 10 Mobile phones, decoupling the cellular radio stack from the rest of the operating system to get around the need for carrier approval for every operating system update or bug fix.
Both Microsoft and the carriers have been pretty tight lipped about the process, however, but a post by an AT&T employee on the AT&T Forums, noted by several reports, gives us our first actual confirmation that Microsoft can update its newest line of phones without carrier approval:

The 950 will be receiving monthly WaaS (Windows as a Service) updates, and the latest one released on December 8th (Build Version 10.0.10586.29.) These updates are not certified by AT&T, and will be delivered via Microsoft over-the-air. A Wi-Fi connection is required. From the App List, scroll down and tap Settings > Phone Update > Check for Update

Of course we already had evidence of that, as Microsoft has previously updated Windows 10 Mobile to both 10586.29 and 10586.36, but the forum post gives us our first official confirmation that AT&T was not in fact involved in the update.
As a subsequent post on the forums notes, what’s more intriguing is how both Microsoft and AT&T will handle firmware updates, which presumably do affect the cellular radio and as such should be still subject to carrier approval (and possible carrier delaying tactics). Microsoft released updated firmware just before Christmas, although only a few Lumia 950 or 950 XL users have reported receiving it. We expect the update to resume rollout shortly after the holidays.
Still, news that Microsoft plans “monthly WaaS (Windows as a Service) updates” is good news, and if Microsoft can continue to refine the OS without having to go through the delaying tactics of the mobile operators, it could be very good news for Windows phone users indeed.