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Apple's Australian Woes Highlight Hazy 4G DefinitionBy Adam Dickter
Posted: April 20, 2012 3:02pm PDT
4G, or not 4G? That is the question.
Since new standards of high-speed, wireless data technology began to emerge in 2010, the label has been attached to a variety of networks, from AT&T and T-Mobile's HSPA+ to Sprint's WiMAX and the long-term evolution, or LTE, systems now being implemented by AT&T and Verizon Wireless.
The International Telecommunications Union set the bar high for what could be called 4G in 2008, at 100 megabits per second for fast mobility and 1 gigabit per second for pedestrians. But few carriers today can deliver that kind of speed. AT&T and Verizon Wireless promise LTE speed of 5 to 12 megabits per second for uplink and 2 to 5 mbps for downloads. Sprint promises up to 10 mbps for its WiMAX network.
Trouble Down Under
Now, with Apple promising that its latest iPad operates on 4G networks, the company has come under fire from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission because it won't connect to LTE networks (run by the Telstra telecommunications company) or to WiMAX there. That's misleading the public, the agency charged.
But Apple responded in Australian Federal Court that the device is still 4G because it can connect to HSPA+ networks there, though that standard is considered 3G in Australia. The wireless data-capable iPad is listed in promotional material as "wi-fi+ 4G."
That means the onus is on Apple to persuade the authorities that HSPA+ is in fact 4G.
"The concept of 4G wireless communications has been reduced to a marketing specsmanship game," tablet analyst Jeff Orr of ABI Research told us Friday. "As marketers realized that they could attract subscribers by claiming they offered 'the next generation" of mobile data, the alignment with specific technologies has blurred and even become confusing for consumers."
Orr said defining the generation standards is the job of the ITU, a U.N. agency that establishes guidelines based on input from member nations. "Its working group, IMT, put out a list of technologies in 2000 called IMT-2000. The market has generally referred to those technologies as 3G. In more recent years, the IMT-2000 recommendations were expanded to include WiMAX and LTE. New advanced guidelines will create the categories WiMAX2 and LTE-Advanced.
The iPad conundrum began last month when the consumer agency threatened litigation and Apple agreed to offer refunds to anyone who felt cheated when they bought the new iPad but couldn't connect to LTE. The eminently profitable computer giant also promised to post signs at all resellers explaining the situation. A May 2 trial will determine whether Apple has violated the law, Slashgear reported. The Wall Street Journal said the Swedish Consumer Agency is also investigating the 4G marketing labeling.
The controversy comes as U.S.-based technology companies are increasingly running afoul of stricter regulations abroad. Also today, a German court ruled that YouTube could be held responsible for material posted by users. And last month the European Union's justice commissioner said the newly implemented privacy policies of Google, which owns YouTube, violates the Union's privacy laws.
But despite the varying definitions of 4G here, Apple's 4G woes in Australia won't affect iPad sales here in the United States. "Apple supports both ways AT&T defines 4G -- HSPA+ and LTE -- and the way Verizon defines 4G, LTE," consumer devices expert Avi Greengart of Current Analysis noted.
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