So, I upgraded my i3 from 3G to a 4G telematics box myself this week.
Can you do it yourself? Yes, and no.
I used a used 4G box from a 2017 X3 (eBay, about $100). It plugged in in place of the 3G box under the rear seat. I thought it was worth trying a used box, since there's a significant cost savings. I just made sure the part number matched tezarc's part number
There is one extra antenna connection on the 4G box that my car didn't have a wire for. From my research it seems to be redundant and not needed on this car.
After installing the new box, when I turned the car on, it complained that the emergency call function was disabled.
I then used my Chinese knockoff ICOM Next box with a laptop with the presumably pirated ISTA software, and had ISTA do its thing - that consisted of updating basically every module on the car to the latest 2021 "i level", and coding any modules that didn't match (in this case the telematics box was automatically re-coded to match my car).
Was I successful? Well, it appears the box is working. I still receive notifications on my phone when charging starts and ends. What didn't work is that ISTA couldn't contact the ConnectedDrive Portal to register the new box, so I can't send commands from the app to the car. Apparently because my copy of ISTA isn't attached to a licensed dealership, it couldn't connect to that portal.
I had already coded my car so that the remote's panic alarm button now activates the climatize function, and climatize was the main thing I used the app for, so I've not done anything about it yet.
Could a BMW dealer service department do this with a new (or used) 4G box and make all the functions work properly? Absolutely, 100%.
I'm going to be charitable and say that the person at BMW who wrote the letter stating that there is no upgrade path from 3G to 4G for these cars was at least misinformed. The cynical part of me thinks that maybe BMW is on the hook to pay the wireless phone companies a tiny amount of money every time a packet of data gets sent to or from one of these cars, and they saw this as a way to slightly reduce their ongoing costs at the expense of customer goodwill.