Even if the Federal Government had already freed up spectrum in the 700MHz band for long-term evolution (LTE) networks, it is unlikely that the new iPad and other international LTE devices with a similar configuration would work locally, according to network vendor Ericsson.
Although Apple has dodged the matter and the telcos have been silent, based on the specs provided by Apple on its website, the new iPad to be launched on Friday will only work in the 700MHz and 2100MHz spectrum bands for LTE networks. This means that it will not work in the 1800MHz LTE networks of either Telstra or Optus.
The 700MHz spectrum band is still being used for analog television signals in Australia; the Federal Government is in the process of switching off analog TV around the country with a view of having the spectrum available by 2015, with an auction of the spectrum to occur at the end of this year. The telcos hope to use this spectrum to deploy LTE networks.
However, even if the spectrum band had already been cleared, it would still be incompatible with the networks in the US, according to Ericsson Australia's strategic marketing manager, Kursten Leins, who explained that the 700MHz band is very fragmented, meaning an operator may be occupying two unconnected bands. Also, parts of the spectrum are taken up by emergency services, leading to greater fragmentation between the various telecommunications providers.
"Even if the [Australian] digital dividend was available today, this is incompatible with the US 700MHz band plan. In fact, it's noteworthy that within the US 700MHz band, the fragmentation resulting from lack of spectrum re-stacking means that even the iPad 3 is available in two models — one for AT&T and one for Verizon — due to the incompatibility of the various 700MHz spectrum configurations chosen by the US," he said.
A similar situation is unlikely to happen in Australia, as the government is pushing for emergency services to put emergency networks in the 800MHz spectrum band. Ericsson said Australian compatibility with devices will ultimately come down to how the 700MHz spectrum band is divided up by the operators in the upcoming auction.
"In reality, we will benefit from clearing — re-stacking the [Australian] 700MHz spectrum to avoid device lock-ins and customisation, ultimately benefiting consumers."
The issue was likely to hit all initial LTE devices launched globally. So far the four products Telstra has launched for its LTE network — two dongles, the HTC Velocity and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.9 — have been customised for the Australian market to work on the 1800MHz spectrum.
It will be a sore spot for Apple, which, unlike other manufacturers, isn't so keen to launch multiple versions of the same device for different regions. Although the company had to make two different versions for the AT&T and Verizon networks in the US, Ovum's chief telecommunications analyst Jan Dawson told The New York Times that it would be unlikely that it would want to make multiple models of the one product.
"Does Apple say we're supporting US LTE for now and risk alienating potential customers outside the US?" Dawson asked. "Or does it say we have to make multiple different units in different parts of the world, which goes against the way they've been working recently of creating a single device?"
In the meantime, Apple is locally promoting the fact that the new iPad supports HSPA+ and DC-HSDPA networks in Australia, with the latter offering up theoretical download speeds of 42 megabits per second.