Apple challenges Australian "4G" definition, seems to think U.S. term should apply everywhere

Apple challenges Australian "4G" definition, seems to think U.S. definition should apply everywhere
As most of you know by now, Apple’s new iPad models come in several different configurations, and the models with LTE radios are named “WiFi + 4G". This naming practice is true everywhere in the world, even places where the new iPad doesn’t (and can’t) work with local 4G networks. This has lead to complaints by customers in Australia, the UK, and the Netherlands, who felt mislead that they purchased a “4G” product that would not (and would never) work on a 4G network in those countries.

It seemed like this was an easy problem to fix – Apple offered to let any unhappy Australian customers return the iPad for a full refund, and agreed to change their advertising to clarify that the new iPad isn’t compatible with Australia’s LTE network (settlements in other countries have not been disclosed, but presumably followed a similar pattern).

But a funny thing happened en route to a settlement this week, as Apple refused to come to terms with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC). On top of the changes listed above, the A-tripple-C wanted Apple to change the name of the iPad WiFi + 4G model to reflect the reality of the product for Australian customers…presumably to “iPad WiFi + 3G” or something similar. Apple balked, and now the matter will head to the Australian courts.

We thought it was strange that Apple wouldn't come to terms with the ACCC, and now it's getting stranger; Apple released a statement yesterday and, in a display of pure chutzpah, decided to call out Australia’s definition of “4G”, stating “The existing 3G networks operated by Telstra, Optus and Vodafone can be called "4G networks in accordance with accepted industry and regulatory use of the descriptor '4G”.

Apple didn’t stop there, laying out their view that Australia is wrong, not Apple, stating "The descriptor '4G' ... conveys to consumers in Australia that the iPad with WiFi + 4G will deliver a superior level of service in terms of data transfer speed (consistent with accepted industry and regulatory use of that term), and not that the iPad with WiFi + 4G is compatible with any particular network technology promoted by a particular mobile service provider in Australia."

This strikes us a rather ballsy, and not in a way that is likely to be rewarded in court. In Australia, after all, the term “4G” does convey that a product is compatible with a specific network technology (Australia’s LTE network, to be exact). Apple is implying that the Australian government is wrong, and that their definition of 4G should follow the U.S.-centered move to redefine 4G to include HSPA+ networks.

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Yet it’s not Australia who is outside industry practices here, it’s the United States. 4G was originally intended to apply only to designated "IMT-Advanced" technologies including LTE and WiMax, but U.S. carriers decided to market their 3G networks as 4G anyways, as a short-cut to prevent competitors (specifically Sprint) from gaining a marketing advantage with the roll out of WiMax. In an attempt to remain relevant to the U.S. market, the ITU reversed course and decided that the term "4G", while "technically applying" to IMT-Advanced techologies, "may also be other evolved 3G technologies providing a substantial level of improvement in performance and capabilities with respect to the initial third generation systems now deployed."

U.S. carriers not named Sprint were delighted to be able to suddenly claim they all had 4G networks (who needs to invest in advanced infrastructure when you can just change the name?), but the move was largely panned by mobile industry pundits, and outside of the U.S. the term 4G has frequently been reserved for LTE and WiMax, including Australia and much of Europe. For those of you wondering, the ITU is not a regulatory body - they rely on external industry groups like the IEEE to set and regulate standards. Thus, their recommendation, while a boon to gimmicky carrier marketing in the United States, carries no real weight with other government bodies. An analogy would be UNICEF, which has set minimum guidelines for safe drinking water in developing countries, but has no say over how the FDA sets their own standards on drinking water safety.

Trying to shove the U.S./ITU definition down the throat of another country’s regulatory commission seems like a losing strategy, and frankly it’s just odd that Apple would even bother; the new iPad is the bestselling tablet in the world – complaints about how well it’s selling seem to center around whether its record-breaking pace is record-breaking-enough, so why get into a legal battle over it?

When this issue first arose we speculated that Apple might be loathe to give up the marketing power of the term “4G”, and at this point we feel that must be the driving force, since the 4G designation in this case has no real importance beyond marketing. Perhaps Apple is concerned about the impact of upcoming Android tablets that would be compatible with Australia's LTE networks? Given that Apple also let AT&T change the HSPA+ iPhone 4S’s network labels to include “4G”, it seems that Apple has become a bit overly sensitive on the subject of late.

source: The Australian via AppleInsider

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