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Is the iPad 4G really 4G? Maybe not in the UK

If the new iPad won’t support 4G LTE mobile networks in the UK when they launch, how can Apple call it the iPad with 4G? We decided to investigate and although it’s not as simple as it sounds, Apple could be in hot water.

Apple is in trouble down under. Its new iPad, commonly known as the iPad 4G for versions with mobile connectivity, can’t actually connect to 4G LTE networks in Australia.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has taken Apple to court for false advertising. Apple is adamant it has done nothing wrong, but is offering refunds to unhappy customers.

So what on earth is going on, and what does it mean for the UK? It’s complicated…

What is 4G, actually?

4G is meant to promise mobile internet speeds considerably faster (as much as 10X) than 3G wireless internet. But there’s a problem – the worldwide definition of ‘4G’ is muddled.

Like 3G, 4G is a marketing invention rather than a technical standard. There’s a myriad of technologies that are referred to as 3G or 4G. Some, such as HSPA+, aren’t true extra-fast ‘4G’ but are simply evolutions of 3G technologies. However, US carriers have been marketing these slower speeds as 4G.

Benny Har-Even, a 4G LTE expert at Informa Telecoms & Media, explains:

‘US networks such as T-Mobile USA, Sprint and AT&T dub their slower network technology as 4G. The reason they can do this is because of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) – the UN body that comes up with the technical standards for mobile networks.

‘After US networks started marketing their networks as 4G, it threw in the towel, and retroactively permitted the use of “4G” for any network that offered a “significant boost” over standard 3G. HSPA+ falls into this category.’

How fast is your so-called 4G?

Slowly some of these networks are upgrading to 4G LTE – an even faster standard and the one Apple has publicly marketed the iPad as supporting – but why won’t it work in Australia?

‘The problem is that the iPad 4G won’t work on existing LTE networks in other countries such as Sweden, Germany and Australia. This is because US and Canadian LTE operates on 700MHz and 2100MHz frequencies, whereas the others use LTE on 800MHz, 1800MHz or 2600MHz frequencies; the iPad 4G only supports the US and Canadian frequencies.’

As you might have guessed, this is also true in the UK. When 4G LTE launches in the UK in early 2013, none of the networks will run on frequencies supported by the iPad 4G. But the iPad does support the ‘slightly faster than 3G’ HSPA+, a technology that is being rolled out by UK networks and which offers theoretical maximum speeds of 21Mbps and 42Mbps depending on how it’s implemented.

At the very least, then, the new iPad will run faster in the UK than the iPad 2. But is it fair for Apple to call this 4G?

A misleading use of ‘4G’?

It’s here that things get murky, legally speaking. Clearly Apple is taking the ITU ruling on 4G as its standard, as indicated by a statement in response to the ACCC’s court action:

‘It will be contested by Apple there are in Australia networks that, according to international definitions, are 4G.’

It added that at no point did Apple claim that the iPad 4G would support 4G LTE in Australia. This much might be true, but can any consumer be blamed for assuming as much when the name of the product is ‘iPad with Wi-Fi and 4G’? Is it realistic to expect consumers to understand the labyrinthine nuances of international telecommunications standards?

We’ve contacted all the major UK mobile networks, and the regulator Ofcom, for clarification on these issues in the UK. So far Three and Everything Everywhere (Orange and T-Mobile) have confirmed to us that they won’t refer to HSPA+ as ‘4G’ – the much faster 4G LTE will be the only 4G marketed in the UK.

While we’re still waiting for official confirmation from everyone else, it’s our understanding that this is the stance of other UK networks as well. What does this mean? Apple’s new iPad will likely never support what UK networks call 4G, meaning if the iPad is marketed as such here, it could be seen as misleading. The Advertising Standards Authority is currently assessing whether Apple’s advertisements are a breach of contract.

If you bought Apple’s iPad 4G, would you expect it to work with 4G networks in the UK?

Comments
Member

Looks like the ASA is now having words with Apple about this http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-17899912

Member

Whilst I completely agree with everyone that are annoyed and dismayed at being “mis-sold” the new iPad, I also have to voice my concern that surely people should be doing their homework before buying it. I made these points to friends on family across a plethora of social networking sites to explain that it’s not a 4G iPad, but is 4G-capable.

There are currently no UK mobile networks that provide coverage for 4G-capable devices, only 3G (or 3G+ for the pedants). There has been a lot of vying for the spectrum for several months and it’s not likely that Brits will see a 4G network before 2013. For those who complain about the UK not having 4G coverage at present, this is down to the UK networks and Ofcom, not Apple.

The problem – as it always is with a media-frenzied product launch from a highly-successful company – is that people love to jump on the bandwagon: They love the fact that they’re buying into the latest must-have gadget and only look into it at the sales stage, but are also first to complain when they hear the first shards of negativity over what they’ve just purchased.

This is Which?, right? Surely it’s the best platform for all of us to do a bit research, get a well-informed, unbiased opinion and ensure that were only purchase something that we know we can use?

Member
Steve says:
4 May 2012

Advertising is all well and good, but what about the packaging and POS. I was told the 4G would work in the UK in the Apple store and it says 4G clearly on the box too. Apple is obliged to deliver on this description or consult trading standards. Either that or change the label to 3G or 4G US.

Member
Alan says:
16 May 2012

When we shopped around for the new iPad, every place was clear about the 4G issue so we bought knowingly. Having not had the earlier version, this was and still is a brilliant piece of kit.

Member
Raghu Tallam says:
22 May 2012

I bought it with the intention that my iPad will support 4G networks in the UK when it’s available next year. But it’s now clear that’s wont be the case.

When I bought it over the phone, the apple agent referred to it as 3G, then I immediately asked if its 4G, he corrected himself as 4G. He lied. What a shame apple.

Member
GrahamG says:
23 May 2012

A really interesting article and follow-up comments.

I recently purchased “The New iPad” and when asked by the sales associate in the Apple Store whether I wanted 4G I thought, “Why not?” – we may only have 3G now but it would be worth future-proofing my investment. Now, discovering that 4G US is not 4G UK is a tad disappointing – £100 is £100.

I notice the Apple “UK” website now says that 4G LTE is only available in US / Canada.

Still, I’ve had the iPad four days and haven’t even taken it out of the (nice) Apple carrier bag, let alone the box, so shouldn’t have any issues exchanging the item – but then why would I want to do that anyway? The New iPad has a higher spec than the iPad 2 and 3G connectivity is something that wouldn’t be available through the Wi-Fi only version. The New iPad may be able to connect to networks at a slightly higher than 3G speed. My decision is whether to take the unit back and get a Wi-Fi version and save £100 and then use the bluetooth to link to my 3G phone. Sounds like this could be an option. At least if the phone is driving the connectivity, it should always be compliant to UK wireless networking standards.

What would your advice be?

Member
Allen says:
15 June 2012

How useful is an IPad with 3G (or 4G) compared with Wifi when on cruise liners?

Member
Garry says:
29 August 2012

I purchased the Apple iPad 3 64GB wi-fi 4G on the understanding that it would work with 4G in the UK. My Ipad is no grey import it has a UK power plug purchased from a UK company. The frequencies for 4G have been widely publicised for years, so I find it very odd that the iPad 4g doesn’t support said frequencies. I’m quite tech savy and never even bothered to read up on 4g why should I the product was advertised as running on 4g.

I therefore believe that Apple may have knowingly sold a product in the UK under false pretence.
Further I believe under the sale of goods act 1979 (as amended) that the goods are not as advertised and are not fit for purpose. I’m approaching my supplier requesting a refund certainly of the extra price I paid for the 4g option, I suggest others do the same. I have also contacted the ASA and trading standards as the iPad is still advertised where I bought it from as iPad 3 64GB wi-fi 4G.