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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
Stephen Lamyman says:
30 March 2012

I am totally confused, I know nothing of 3G or 4G but expected as promised on the Apple website for my new iPad to be using the 4G networks, now I discover this is just a slightly quicker 3G…..glad the office paid for it and not me!

MetalSamurai says:
30 March 2012

Seems to be yet another example of Apple-bashing link bait. First of all, it’s not called “iPad 4G”, that’s a name you’ve made up to support your story of outrage.

The real story is that 4G (LTE) is a mess if you look at the worldwide rollout. 3G was bad enough – take a look at the barmy frequencies T-Mobile got landed with in the US, for example. The problem really is governments around the world refusing to agree on frequencies, delaying the roll out in countries (the UK has no 4G LTE networks and it will be a very long time before anybody outside London sees one).

It’s not even a clear story in the US – both AT&T and Verizon offer LTE, but on completely different frequencies that require a different iPad model. Nobody makes a radio chipset that supports the frequencies that have been haphazardly allocated around the world.

The truth is that the iPad *does* support 4G. In the same way as my car may have a top speed of 140mph, but it will *never* achieve that unless I take it to a German autobahn. Should car manufacturers say UK car models have a top speed of 70mph? Should 3G models of phones sold in areas with only 2G coverage be relabelled as 2G? That seems to be what you’re advocating, but it just wouldn’t be true. The truth is more nuanced and untidy.

The fact is many people travel and that UK iPad *will* work on 4G LTE networks elsewhere in the world. To deny the iPad has 4G would be misleading, so we have to live with the disclaimer that the speed will be entirely dependent on local conditions and the network operator. Even when we get 4G, who really believes anybody outside London will see anything like the promised speeds? Where is HSPA available now?

dunkan says:
30 March 2012

I’ve just received my new iPad 4G, and had – until reading the Which? article – thought it would use 4G as soon as we had 4G in the UK…

It’s a lovely piece of kit; but now I’m not a happy bunny!

MetalSamurai says:
30 March 2012

“Accepted shorthand” in much the same way iTouch is used instead of iPod Touch? (Or worse, from the manufacturer’s perspective calling a Dyson vacuum cleaner a “Hoover”). My point is that’s not part of the product name. It’s listed as a feature, though. And that feature truly exists. Should they lie?

As for comparisons with car speeds, I don’t think you’d get far arguing that the car dealer told you the top speed of your car was 140 when the police pulled you over. For all practical purposes the top speed of all UK cars *is* 70mph. As for local conditions, then you are agreeing with me – the car/iPad is *capable* of the speed it is designed to support, but it’s entirely dependent on things that are outside the manufacturer’s control (same applies to 802.11n wireless networking, incidentally, which is crippled in the UK and cannot reach the speeds manufacturers quote).

But should any UK purchaser expect 4G? Of course not! There ARE NO 4G NETWORKS HERE. Frankly there’s very little sign of *3G* in most of the places I travel and I have to put up with very slow GPRS. Do I complain that I was mis-sold a 3G phone? Based on the rate of 3G coverage I don’t think most of us (beyond the lucky chosen few who live or work in London) will see any LTE network coverage near them for many years. If ever.

But will their iPad support 4G if they take it on holiday to certain countries? Yes it will. I don’t really understand why you’re advocating misleading information (by omitting features that genuinely will be used by some consumers). Is the truth too complicated? (That’s rhetorical – I’ve seen the Nutrition panels on food packaging).

Perhaps you’re not Apple bashing, but Apple seem to be a very convenient hook to hang a story on in such a way that it will attract attention. Compare with the stories about working conditions at Foxconn factories in China. The press hang the story on Apple, yet they are the one company doing something to investigate and improve conditions. Nobody ever suggests boycotting HP or Dell despite the fact their products are built by Foxconn as well and have remained silent on their plans to improve conditions.

MetalSamurai says:
30 March 2012

One related point where Apple do deserve some flack is that they caved in to AT&T’s marketing demands do that the 3G-only iPhone 4S (when running iOS 5.1) will display “4G” when connected to hi-speed sections of AT&T’s 3G network.

With layers of confusing marketing fluff covering everything like this it’s perhaps not surprising that nobody knows what’s going on.

From where I sit (as an avowed Apple-sceptic) it seems the last thing Which can be accused of is being ‘Apple-bashers’ – in the main they come over more as fan-boys, wilfully ignoring better equipment because it doesn’t come with a half-eaten apple on the box. MetalSamur seems to think that everyone should know there is no 4G available in the UK, whereas the reality is that many/most will beleive that because Apple say the iPad supports 4G that its a done deal. It’s just another bit of Apple sleight-of-hand, they could have said ‘supports 4G where available on XYX frequencies’ which might prompt the user to ask the question. But that might have cost them an over-priced sale.

Benny Har-Even says:
30 March 2012

As the ‘LTE expert’ quoted in the article, it’s interesting to read on the comments here that some have bought the ‘new iPad with 4G’ and expected it to give them 4G support when it arrives in the UK. That would certainly put paid to accusations of ‘Apple bashing link-bait’ as its educating consumers, which surely is what Which is here to do.

It seems to me that because it says 4G on the iPad box, consumers expect it to just give them 4G – because as we all know, with all Apple products, “it just works”. Don’t they?

It indicates that the Apple brand is trusted a lot more than the operators, who are seen as money grabbing – the reaction to the price hike on T-Mobile UK is a recent example. (This is quite ironic as we all know who’s sitting on a mountain of cash, but that’s another story).

As far as I’m concerned it boils down to how much responsibility has to be placed on Apple to educate consumers. It has not lied. The product name is accurate and the small print states the facts accurately. It’s just that if people don’t read the small print they are likely to get burned (I don’t mean by a hot iPad, again, another story).

It’s certainly arguable that Apple could have made it more clear that this iPad will never work on ‘4G’ in the UK, but that would potentially put people off.

If enough people complain the ASA may have to make a decision and no doubt Apple will be forced to offer refunds. That said, surely refunds within the first 30 days are possible anyway?

bernie mastin says:
31 March 2012

i am thinking of buying an ipad, what do you think? Reviews etc?

My opinion is that the new iPad is pretty nice with sharp screen, but otherwise no different (and costs more) than the iPad 2. And as we have seen, the 4G may not even work, although I find it fast enough on 3G for my needs.

If you think you are likely to do a lot of reading on it then the sharpness of text is impressive, I don’t watch HD videos on mine so don’t need the extra resolution. iBooks is pretty slow on my iPad 2 and apparently is better on the new one.

Have a look for yourself in the shop, a £70 saving on buying an iPad 2 is not to be sniffed at if you’re not too fussed about having ultra-sharp resolution. Me, I’m waiting for the 4th generation before looking to upgrade.

Hi Bernie, if you’re a Which? member you can read all our Tablet reviews here: http://www.which.co.uk/technology/computing/reviews/tablets/ Or go on our Tech Daily blog and read our comparison of the new iPad with the iPad 2: http://blogs.which.co.uk/technology/tablets-2/new-ipad-vs-ipad-2-should-i-upgrade/ Thanks and good luck with whatever you buy.

It is indeed misleading of Apple to market a product as 4G in a country where the product does not have the functionality to operate on the frequencies at which 4G is planned to operate. However, see the recent BBC News article at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-17560578 which suggests that Ofcom may consider allocating some of the 700MHz band, which the iPad 3 does support, to 4G/LTE.

jerry says:
2 April 2012

not only is the advertised 4g incorrect but the a-gps is not a stand alone gps–it does not use satellite positioning but it is dependant of triangulation of wireless masts so the Apple support inform me –so a data plan costing ? is also required– in other words it is an assisted positioning system not an Assisted Global Positioning Satelitte system–

I bought the iPad 3 or new iPad (why they are calling it that I do not know as when the first iPad came out was that not the new iPad?). I bought the iPad 3 as I had the first iPad and I did expect it to work on 4G vand didn’t notice at first until I had to use the 4G when I was not at home and it came up 3G! I thought I must have done something or the sim I got was an old one and needed a new one or had to switch something on or off on my iPad 3. So I did a live chat with apple and was told that the uk at the moment doesn’t have 4G and they don’t know when and I have to get in touch with my sim provider to find out if they will be supporting it. So why did they sell it and market it as iPad 3 with 4G if you can’t get it? They should have said it can use 4G when and if it is available.

MetalSamurai says:
2 April 2012

Re: GPS. the wifi iPads have never had GPS, the GSM models all do have GPS. They use both wifi and cell base station triangulation to assist.

As for expecting 4G, didn’t whoever supplied your SIM explain that they do not have a 4G network available? Doesn’t matter if it’s O2, Vodafone, 3, Everything Everywhere, there are no 4G networks in the UK. I spend a lot of time in places that don’t even have 3G, so I’m very skeptical of any claims that there will be a usable 4G network anywhere near me for a long time. If ever.

And the name. How many completely different desktop computers have been called simply “iMac”, how man different “MacBook” or “MacBook Pro” models have there been? It was “iPad 2” (and the iPhone models) that didn’t follow Apple’s usual simple naming convention.

Is the new iPad for you? If you already have an iPad 2, perhaps not. I replaced an original iPad – and that’s who Apple are targeting: new customers and people who have the original model (which you can shuffle down to other family members or still sell secondhand). Unlike Android tablets which rarely get software updates, Apple are happy for you to keep an older model. The Android manufacturers have to sell you a new one to make money.

You still appear to have missed the point. Many consumers are aware that 4G connectivity is not currently available in the UK, but are equally aware that it *will* be available over the next year or two.

From even the comments here, it is clear many consumers were unaware that even when 4G connectivity comes to the UK, the new iPad will not be compatible. The product calls itself iPad 4G (or iPad with WiFi + 4G to be precise). The problem is that the Apple store (online) and website do not explain the issues to consumers when purchasing. Customers are not being given the full information and this is problematic.

On the Australian store, Apple has been forced to add a small disclaimer:
This product supports very fast cellular networks. It is not compatible with current Australian 4G LTE networks and WiMAX networks.

Apple has arguably made a ‘misleading ommission’ (within the CPRs 2008), through a lack of full information. If the 4G label even *might* lead the consumer to believe it will be 4G compatible, Apple has a legal duty to provide further information to prevent false assumptions. So why hasn’t Apple done this for the UK store (to state that the new iPad will not/is not expected to be compatible with incoming 4G networks in the UK)? Likely because legal action hasn’t yet emerged, as it did in Australia.

*Note I am not a consumer lawyer, although I do have a qualifying degree.

DonaldDubh says:
5 April 2012

Hmm, interesting, At the moment I am torn between buying a netbook or a tablet. Apple seems hugely expensive for what you get. I think some people buy an Apple merely because it has some sort of cult status!!!!. just as Blackberry is the must have phone for young people.

Dan says:
15 April 2012

It’s not Apple’s fault for being advanced with their amazing technology. iPad is capable of connecting to 4G however the UK networks have not worked hard enough to introduce 4G technology into the UK. They have been trialling for over a year and the networks have the money, but are being incredibly wary due to Orange risky purchase of 3G technology many years ago when Internet on a phone was not then thought to be possible. I blame the networks, not Apple.

Margaret says:
19 April 2012

I’m still waiting for 3G. The nearest I get is Edge(whatever that is) and that’s 25miles away. They need to sort that coverage out before moving on

Ken Peachey says:
23 April 2012

I answer to the question in the last paragraph, yes I would expect the new iPad to work with 4g in the uk.

Victor Elliott says:
25 April 2012

When I purchase an item in the UK with specific functions that effect the cost I as an end user expect those functions to work. I am not an expert so when I am offered 4G as a benefit I expect the supplier and or the manufacturer to be selling me a product that will work in the country where I made the purchase. To find out that it will only work in the USA is unsatisfactory and seems to me to be misleading. Clearly APPLE must have been aware of the shortcomings when I made my purchase. I hope Apple will make this fact clear on all future sales and at the very least apologise to existing purchasers.

Kniffy says:
27 April 2012

I purchased something entitled as Apple iPad 3 32GB wi-fi 4G in the UK for use in the UK. Where does Apple have a problem with the interpretation of the item description? It will constitute a massive trading scam if anything less than that description is allowed to hold sway only future decisions.