Apple seeks to redefine 3G as 4G

Apple is seeking to redefine Australia's 3G networks as being "4G", according to a new filing in the Federal Court.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Apple is seeking to redefine Australia's 3G networks as being "4G", according to a new filing in the Federal Court.

Not satisfied with getting corrective advertising and making Apple offer refunds to customers, according to a report in The Australian this morning, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is trying to push Apple to change the name of the cellular version of the iPad from the "iPad Wi-Fi + 4G" in Australia.

This is due to the fact that the new device, launched last month, does not work on long-term evolution (LTE) networks in Australia. It will work on LTE networks in the 2100MHz and 700MHz spectrum bands, but Australian telcos are using the 1800MHz spectrum bands at the moment, because the 700MHz band is still being used for analog TV.

In Apple's latest defence filing, according to the report, Apple states that it believes the 3G networks run by Telstra, Optus and Vodafone "are 4G networks in accordance with accepted industry and regulatory use of the descriptor '4G'".

Wait, what?

When it finally gets to court, Apple will no doubt argue that the HSPA+ service that is available on 3G networks in Australia could be classed as 4G, and has been marketed as such by T-Mobile in the US. But just because one company is marketing it that way doesn't necessarily mean that there is industry consensus on what 4G is.

3 Mobile in the UK, for example, was much more reserved when it announced an HSPA+ upgrade earlier this year. The company specifically stated that this upgrade wasn't "4G", but more like leading-edge 3G.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which declares these things, told me last year — in the neutral fashion that you'd expect from an agency of the United Nations — that although it is aware of telcos marketing their networks as 4G, the ITU hasn't actually declared any current commercial networks as being 4G.

The ITU has said that LTE-Advanced meets the requirements for 4G — for example achieving 100Mbps — but no commercially available networks currently meet those requirements.

Ultimately, declaring a network service to be 3G or 4G is just a marketing term. Given what we've been hearing from disgruntled customers lately about our telcos' current network performance, I'm not sure that the telcos should try to declare that their 3G networks get 4G speeds, although Telstra's does come close.

It will be interesting to hear how Apple intends to argue this one out. The full case isn't set to be heard until May, and by then we will hopefully have a better idea on when the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) plans to begin dishing out access to the 700MHz spectrum for use in the LTE "4G" networks that could potentially make this entire case go away. But I suspect that's still a long way off, and will only come to fruition as the next iPad comes onto the horizon — which will no doubt support more spectrum bands for LTE.

Updated at 7:45am, 20 April 2012: clarified ITU's stance on LTE

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