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?