Apple's 4G iPad Problems Prompt Australian Refunds

Apple raised the ire of Australian watchdogs who say the new iPad isn't a 4G device, even though that's how Apple advertises it. This isn't (entirely) Apple's fault.
New iPad Teardown: Inside Apple's New Tablet
New iPad Teardown: Inside Apple's New Tablet
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Apple will give refunds to customers in Australia who are unsatisfied with the new iPad, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. A consumer watchdog group there filed a complaint against Apple, accusing the company of using misleading advertising. Apple sells the new iPad in two variants: Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi + 4G. That's not accurate, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said, and Apple needs to do something about it.

The new iPad works on 4G networks in the United States and Canada, but not the 4G networks that are available to Australians. Telstra, the largest network operator in Australia, uses LTE in the 1800-MHz band and Vividwireless uses WiMax in the 2300-MHz band. The iPad supports LTE in the 700-MHz and 2100-MHz bands, which are used by network operators in North America.

The new iPad does, however, support UMTS, HSPA, HSPA+, and DC-HSDPA in the 850-, 900-, 1900-, and 2100-MHz bands. Australia's operators make use of these bands for their 3G networks. So, the new iPad works on 3G networks in Australia, but not 4G networks. What's Apple doing about it?

First, Apple said it will change its signage to reflect that the new device doesn't work on Telstra and Vividwireless's 4G networks, said the Herald. It will also email those who've purchased the new iPad and explain the difference. Apple will also offer a refund to customers who believe they were misled. Last, Apple will provide revised signage to its resellers that reads: "This product supports very fast cellular networks. It is not compatible with current Australian 4G LTE networks or Wi-Max networks." Apple agreed to distribute the signage by 5 p.m. April 5.

[ It's not a flaw, it's a feature. See Apple Calls iPad Battery Behavior 'Great Feature.' ]

So far, it sounds like Apple is doing the right thing and making good on the situation. Even so, the ACCC is taking Apple to court with the goal of wrangling a fine out of the iPad maker.

Apple's 4G marketing problems aren't unique to Australia. Trouble appears to be brewing in Europe, with Austrian, Swedish, and United Kingdom consumer advocates weighing action against Apple's new iPad and its inability to operate on European 4G networks.

However, there's a bigger issue at play that will continue to lead to marketing problems for tablet and smartphone makers for years to come: 4G networks are incredibly disparate around the globe.

We need only look at the United States as an example. AT&T and Verizon Wireless both use the 700-MHz band for their LTE networks, but devices won't be able to roam between the two networks because they are using different frequencies. Sprint's LTE network will operate partially in the 1900-MHz band and partially in the 2.5-GHz band. T-Mobile's LTE network will eventually operate in the 1700-MHz band.

Consumers in the United States can't effectively roam among the various 4G networks at all. Amplify this by hundreds of carriers across hundreds of countries, and you begin to see the problem. There are at least three different bands being used by carriers across Europe for LTE. Worse, some technologies (such as HSPA+) are being marketed as 3G in some markets and as 4G in others. Confused yet?

While the GSMA did a great job convincing the majority of carriers to use the same bands for 2G/2.5G networks, 3G and now 4G networks are entirely different stories to which there appears to be no happy ending.

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