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Wednesday, 28 March 2012 18:24

Apple hasn't lied: new iPad has 4G that works in North America

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UPDATED: There is a suggestion and a perception out there that Apple is lying about its new iPad's 4G capabilities, when nothing could be further from the truth given a 4G-capable communications chip sits upon the new iPad's tiny motherboard.

Opinions are loud and clear out there from some that Apple is misleading consumers in Australia - and presumably everywhere else in the world, including Europe and elsewhere, where a non-iPad compatible 4G network exists.

UPDATE 7.04PM: Fairfax Media has reported Apple has agreed in court that, by 5pm on April 5, all new iPad resellers will display a sign stating: "This product supports very fast cellular networks. It is not compatible with current Australian 4G LTE networks or WiMax networks", with a mediation date set for April 18 and a date of May 2 set for trial to determine whether Apple has or has not broken Australian law, the result of which "could lead to further legal action".

ORIGINAL STORY CONTINUES:

The criticism from around the web is that Apple is telling people, in its advertising, on its web site and on its packaging that the new iPad has 4G capabilities or even mentions 4G, while keeping in the small or fine print section the notification that '4G LTE is supported only on AT&T and Verizon networks in the US; and on Bell, Rogers and Telus networks in Canada. Data plans sold separately. See your carrier for details.

However, if an Australian owner of a 4G capable new iPad visits the US or Canada, they will be able to connect to 4G networks there by buying a prepaid microSIM card and surfing at 4G speeds immediately.

This means the new iPad does indeed work at 4G speeds on compatible networks - this is not being denied by anyone. Surely if this is the case, Apple cannot be lying about the fact its new iPad is indeed 4G capable?

The thing is, Apple is not advertising the new iPad as being able to connect to Telstra's 4G LTE network or any 4G network in Australia.

Indeed, multiple news reports from Australian publications, including iTWire - and publications around the world - quickly swung into action to note that the new iPad's 4G capabilities were limited to certain US and Canadian telcos and wouldn't work on Australian, European or other 1800MHz 4G LTE networks around the world.

What does Apple say on its site?

While the US version of the Apple site lists a 4G LTE logo with the heading of 'Ultrafast 4G LTE. Full speed ahead' when you scroll down halfway through the iPad features page, the Australian version of its site instead shows a line drawing of a large antenna tower receiving and transmitting radio waves in place of the 4G LTE logo, followed by the headline of 'Ultrafast wireless. Full speed ahead'.

In this same section under a headline entitled 'Really really fast is your only option', Apple says on the Australian site that 'The new iPad supports fast cellular networks the world over. [2] So you can browse the web, stream content or download a movie at blazing-fast speeds. It also works on GSM/UMTS worldwide network technologies including HSPA, HSPA+ and DC-HSDPA '” the fastest 3G networks out there. You'll see downlink speeds up to 42 Mbps with DC-HSDPA and up to 21.1 Mbps with HSPA+. [3]'.

It's important to note here that the iPad 2 nor the original iPad worked on the faster 3G HSPA+ or DC-HSDPA networks that were then or subsequently became available - but the new iPad 3 certainly now does. This genuinely gives users of HSPA+ or DC-HSDPA networks the capability of faster access speeds on a new iPad than those using the slower 3G HSPA speeds only on now older iPad 1 or iPad 2 models.

Thus, even without access to a 4G network in Australia, the new iPad finally does deliver faster access to existing HSPA+ and DC-HSDPA networks in Australia and around the world - something the older iPads simply cannot claim, and never did.

That's presumably why the US site differs from the Australian text only in the first sentence, where Apple's US site says that: 'The new iPad supports fast cellular networks the world over '” including 4G LTE networks in the U.S. and Canada.'

In the text above, the [2] and [3] are referenced as superscript numbers to lead you to the fine print of both the US and Australian sites linked above that '[2] 4G LTE is supported only on AT&T and Verizon networks in the US; and on Bell, Rogers and Telus networks in Canada. Data plans sold separately. See your carrier for details' and '[3] Based on theoretical peak speeds. Actual speeds will be lower.

From what I've seen, and noting that I am not a lawyer, these are the standard types of disclaimers that any company would use, and they do explain that the iPad only works on selected US and Canadian telcos with compatible 4G networks.

Meanwhile, the maximum 'up to' speeds of mobile networks, Wi-Fi routers, ADSL+ speeds and more are never the actual speeds, but the theoretical maximums these standards work at, with actual speeds always lower than these theoretical maximums.

Just take a look at any of Telstra's advertising for its Next G or 4G wireless modems - or that of any telco or networking equipment manufacturer - the fine print always explains these theoretically maximal limitations.

As I explained in my earlier article on the ACCC's action against Apple Australia, the ACCC is going after Apple for being misleading about the iPad's 4G capabilities.

From the ACCC's site: 'The ACCC alleges that Apple's recent promotion of the new "iPad with WiFi + 4G" is misleading because it represents to Australian consumers that the product "iPad with WiFi + 4G" can, with a SIM card, connect to a 4G mobile data network in Australia, when this is not the case.

However, given my own observations of an-in store printed notification at JB HiFi at the new iPad section that Apple's new iPad is not compatible with Australia's 4G networks, as well as an explanation of this lack of Australian 4G compatibility when then proceeding to buy an "iPad WiFi + 4G" from this particular JB HiFi store, as well as companies such as Apple and Telstra explaining to buyers that the new iPad does not work on the Telstra 4G network.

If you ask a salesperson selling the new iPad from several of the major retail chains in Australia if it works with Telstra's 4G network, or not, and that person says yes, then that person is lying to you - not Apple.

Apple is basically being criticised for not explicitly stating in its Australian advertising that the new iPad does not work with Telstra's 4G network. However its existing text does not say that it does, explicitly mentioning the fastest 3G networks instead.

If the ACCC wins its case, Apple will be forced to print millions of stickers to manually stick onto each new iPad sold in Australia, as well as print 'corrective advertising' in several of Australia's major newspapers, offering refunds to any customer that has felt misled and wants a refund and presumably continuing its existing policy of ensuring sales staff in its own and partner retail stores explain to consumers that the new iPad does not work with the Telstra 4G network - along with whatever else the court decides is appropriate.

According to the ABC, Apple has already agreed in court to offer refunds to those who wanted them, and also said in part that 'The Federal Court heard Apple ignored warnings from the ACCC and was told the day before the iPad's launch that it was misleading consumers', and that 'Apple has agreed to publish a clarification that states the product supports ultra-fast mobile networks but is not compatible with the Telstra network.

At the time of publication, further court proceedings have not yet been reported, with the case presumably still continuing - or perhaps set to be adjourned for another day. This story will be updated when that happens.

Ultimately, it would appear, at least to me, that Apple and its partners are not actively engaging in misrepresenting the iPad as being compatible with Telstra's 4G LTE network, nor any 4G networks that will be launched this year by Optus, if not Vodafone as well.

Thus, while the ACCC adds to the Apple 'free publicity' fire, all that seems to have happened is that a government agency is meddling where its actions simply aren't needed, potentially forcing Apple to waste a bit of money printing up several million stickers to stick on existing iPad stocks in Australia at Apple and various retailers noting the lack of existing Aussie 4G network compatibility.  

Meanwhile, inflating fuel, energy and food prices continue inflating in what some claim could well be anti-competitive, but instead of any kind of lightning lawsuit and consumer defending action, we have voluminous Yes Minister-esque reports on why things are the way they are and how don't you worry about what's happening over there, hey, look over here instead as we take a bite out of the mighty Apple!

The ACCC could also have enquired of Apple or telcos as to why they have not yet activated the Personal Hotspot feature newly launched for the new iPad.

Apple promotes this new feature on the iPad section of its site, but as it is a carrier dependent feature with only Vodafone having said in a tweet thus far that the feature was coming in the future, Australians using the 3G equipped new iPads still wait for any news or action from Telstra or Optus to do the same so all Australian iPad 3 owners also get impending access to this useful new feature.

So... Apple's new iPad actually does work on US and Canadian 4G networks, as well as future Australian 4G networks on at least the 700MHz band (if not also the 2100MHz band), so to suggest that Apple is lying just seems wrong.

The new iPad is 4G capable, currently on compatible US and Canadian 4G LTE networks, and more worldwide when networks on compatible bands come.

A future iPad 4 in 2013 will probably also contain a 4G LTE chip supporting more bands, including the 1800MHz band used in Australia and elsewhere around the world, and it is disappointing Apple wasn't able to include this capability in the 2012 iPad, but the company did not, and until they do, this fact will not change - even if competitors such as Samsungcompetitors such as Samsung have indeed made Telstra 4G LTE compatible Android tablet devices prior to the new iPad's launch.

The iPad's 4G support for North American was made clear right from the initial keynote presentation, where as one Australian report explains, only US and Canadian carrier logos were shown when 4G was being spoken of - no Telstra logos appeared, and in checking my copy of the March keynote, I can confirm it, with those logos appearing over the map of North America.

What happens next?

I've no idea what the ACCC and the court will, in the end, force Apple to undertake, and at the time of publication, at 6.42pm, no courtroom annoucements have been reported, so unless they're all still hard at work as we speak nutting out some kind of deal, we'll just have to wait to see what ultimately happens.

UPDATE: As noted in the update at the top of this article, Apple has agreed to a sign, which at least JB HiFi already had, if not all Apple resellers. There are no stickers, it would seem, and there's still a mediation date and a trial date to come, but we have certainly had some very pretty fireworks for the day. Story continues...

However, aside from yet again illuminating how there appears to be no such thing as bad publicity, and government's propensity to meddle in the affairs of others via its various arms, the ACCC's actions simply seem to be a complete waste of time.

Aside from helping to promote the ACCC's relevance, this action effectively helps no-one, while rewarding lawyers with lots of fees and tying up already extremely busy court time with ultimately frivolous matters of little import to both the nation at large and the individual man and woman on the street.

The wrong questions about competitiveness in the food, fuel and energy markets are being asked. After all, if you're simply asking 'Is anything being done about fuel, energy and food prices?', along with 'Are we doing anything to show Apple and the Australian people we're displeased its new iPad doesn't work on bloody Telstra?' then it's very easy to answer Yes, Minister, and give the perfect answer.

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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