The New iPad and Apple’s Massive 4G Mistake

March 7th was a bit of a milestone for me – it was the first time in my life that I had reserved and bought an Apple product straight after it was launched. Normally I am a bit dubious when it comes to technology, and before investing in a new gadget, I like to read countless reviews about it to really ascertain whether I’m getting the best value for money. But when the new iPad was announced I was certain that I could trust my instinct, took the plunge, and bought it outright without even reading one single review.

The features were certainly worth shouting about – that all-new, highly anticipated retina display and a beefed-up A5X processor with more powerful capabilities. All sounding good so far, I thought to myself. Then, the bombshell dropped – the new iPad will have 4G support (LTE), allowing blisteringly fast download speeds that makes 3G look ancient and sluggish.


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apple-ipad-event-2012_038

Apple demonstrating the 4G capabilities of the new iPad.

Now, for those of you who don’t know, 4G is the next standard of mobile broadband and comes mainly in LTE (Long Term Evolution) form, which allows for speeds of up to 100 Mbps, a pretty hefty figure when you stop and think about it. In today’s internet-obsessed world, where online video, music and cloud computing prevails, 4G can transform your internet experience vastly. You can stream HD video without any flickering or buffering and downloading a song takes an average of 4 seconds. The capabilities are pretty much endless – and I wanted in.

4g

Sprint's way of demonstrating the speed difference between 3G and 4G.

However, to my shock and horror, I discovered (firstly after parting with 599 of my hard-earned Euros) that the new iPad isn’t compatible at all with European LTE networks. The new iPad is designed to run off LTE frequencies of 700 and 2100 MHz, however in Europe they mostly run on the 800, 1800 and 2600 MHz frequencies, making it completely incompatible.

Seeing as the LTE rollout has already started across several countries in Europe, there’s no time really to start changing all the frequencies to make the new iPad compatible.

Now wait just a second here.

As a European, sometimes I feel a bit cheated when it comes to technology. I like to think of us as a technological bunch of people, however we do sometimes seem to be on the back end of technology. When the first iPhone came out in 2007, it ran solely on the EDGE network and consequently demand wasn’t so great in Europe, where most countries already had widespread 3G networks. As EDGE is often painfully slow for web browsing, you were quite limited on what you could do with it (unless you connected it to WiFi) and it didn’t really do the definition “smartphone” justice.

Verizon launched its first 4G network at the end of 2010 and it now covers nearly 200 major cities in the US, reaching nearly 200 million people according to CNN. Devices capable of running on the LTE network standard have sprang up in popularity over the past year or so and other networks, such as AT&T and Sprint have also been investing billions in their infrastructure to bring it up to the new standards.

Verizon 4G

Verizon's 4G network as of March 2012 (the yellow dots indicate 4G areas). It reaches approximately 200 million Americans.

In my home country, the UK, the telecommunications regulator OFCOM is waiting for the analogue TV signals to be switched off (which is due to be completed by 2013) before even starting the auction for the airwaves to mobile operators, however in other countries in Europe, LTE has seen some pretty major progression, mostly due to its compatability with the existing UMTS network.

Sweden was one of the first countries to launch 4G in Europe back in December 2009 and its infrastructure covers most cities, with major expansion works planned for this year. In Germany, where I am currently living, Vodafone’s LTE network covers half the country, with roughly 25-30 million people living in 4G areas based on my rough estimates, so why is Apple excluding such a large potential group of customers?

Vodafone DE LTE

Vodafone's LTE coverage in Germany (the yellow shaded areas).

And it’s not just the Europeans they are excluding. Australia, Hong Kong and South Korea all have existing LTE networks that run on the same frequencies as the European ones, meaning that they too won’t get a taste of LTE until Apple releases the iPad 4th generation (already dubbed the “new new iPad” by some), which will surely brag “worldwide LTE support” as one of its main features. Perhaps that’s why Apple made such an emphasis on the worldwide 3G feature on the new iPad.

So, I’ve really just spent €599 on an iPad with a retina display and a new processor. The new 5 megapixel camera is a load of hot air for me (how many people do you see taking pictures on their iPad when they are out and about?) and I’m disappointed that such a major and anticipated feature is a bumbling white elephant. That’s like buying a house and finding out you can’t go into half the rooms. The house still serves its purpose but you’re not exactly using it to its full potential. The same could be said about the new iPad in Europe.

Apple really should think more of its worldwide customers, especially when it comes to something as major as this. iPads aren’t exactly priced favourably in Europe – the new iPad with 4G (with 16 GB of storage) is retailing at €599 (around $785, nearly $200 more expensive than in the United States). What baffles me beyond measure is why Apple is selling the LTE version in Europe at all when it doesn’t even work over here. According to their Q1 2012 financial data, nearly half of their revenue is generated from outside the Americas and Europe is an important sales destination – 25% of their Q1 2012 revenue was generated in Europe. To leave us hanging dry is slightly disappointing and I do feel slightly fleeced here.

So, whilst you Americans are watching films in high-definition video on your new iPad in the airport just before your flight leaves or uploading those pictures from last night at the rate of 20 a second, just stop and think about all us poor, backward Europeans who are rewarded with the endless annoyance of that loading icon and jumpy online videos. At least until March 2013, anyway…


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  • Bryan Gibson

    So by your own admission, you made a major purchase without doing any research and now you’re blaming Apple? There are tons of products out there that aren’t compatible, do less or do more than we’ll ever need, but most of us don’t buy them with our hard-earned cash unless we’ve done at least minimal research. I love Apple, but every purchase from them is an investment. Lesson learned, eh?

  • LisaG

    Thanks for this article. I am waiting in the UK on my (first!) ipad: a wifi model. My brother in the US thinks that I have compromised on my choice but the extra cash, extra weight and limited usability made my decision. I will pass this article on to him :)

    And when I think about it, my habits make it less likely that I would need more than WiFi access: as a “mature” user, I am most likely to use it at home, the office, a friend’s house, or public wifi area. I quizzed some friends (here in the UK) and although many bragged about having access wherever, most admitted they have rarely used it.

    You would think that with the world supposedly getting smaller, industries would embrace global standards. Sadly, it seems we are still suffering from the same issues that we have endured with TVs and VHS tapes. Definitely a white elephant here–at least for now.

  • Jen

    I thought we had 3G here in the UK? Oh well maybe I was wrong and all this time I’ve been hooked up to a wi-point just named 3G…

    You want apple to produce a different model without LTE?

    Sounds like you’re bitter because you paid extra for the non wi-fi iPad and have since found out you won’t get the 4G speed.

  • http://canadiantechblogger.com Brad

    Too bad 4G LTE is a horrible unspecific set of spectrums.

  • Stefan

    Just cancel your order and buy the one without LTE ;)
    In germany you have 2 weeks to cancel any order made over the internet.

    • Paul

      It is like that all over Europe not just in Germany!!

  • Wut

    lolwut, since when has the technology been anywhere near up to date (in modern times) in the UK? Never have I ever experienced that the warm water would stop to be warm before I came to the UK. Along with lack of isolation, slow internet speeds, super old banking etc etc of course. Heck I think the UK is still using analog TV here and there! Hellloooo?

  • http://www.kieru.com Rob

    I’m not sure what the point of this article is. Is it to warn European consumers that despite the new iPad advertising itself as LTE it does not work with many European LTE providers?

    If that’s the case well… duh. That has been discussed in several reviews and was brought up during the reveal. Shame on you for buying without thought or research; that type of zealotry only gives mac users a bad name.

    Your misleading title suggests that Apple has done wrong here when really it’s just your own ignorance that led to a poor decision in purchasing the new iPad. I think it’s great that you want to alert people to the potential downfall of spending all that extra cash on the LTE version… but don’t blame Apple; blame yourself.

    • Paul

      Well said on all points.

  • Mario Cunha

    I totally agree with the article. When apple advertises the iPad as being LTE capable, should be clear that is only possible in some countries, and not in the great majority of them. 95% of the potencial costumers just don’t know or read articles where they should know wich frequencies the LTE will work or not.
    I still love most of the new features of the new iPad, and it’s not the LTE that would make my decision in buying or not, but also think that apple should respect more their foreign costumers, speatially knowing that most of their revenues ( I read 2/3 this week ) comes already from outside US.

  • http://twitter.com/tomhut tomhut

    The most lightly reason why isn’t going to be an oversight by Apple or the fact that they don’t care about customers outside the US but because of a technical or supply chain issue with producing a variant that works on the European LTE frequencies. Even if they did produce one that worked on 800MHz, 1800MHz and 2600MHz there’s no guarantee it would work on the bands selected by your network.

    Ontop of that it’s easy to forget that the new iPad already supports more wireless bands than any other consumer electronics device in history!

    Besides, by the time the LTE spectrum auction is complete in the UK and, the current legal issues around it are sorted out and the network operators start installing equipment en masse the forth generation iPad will lightly be on shelves.

  • totallyAcRo

    Well… I really don’t know what your problem is. You can get DC-HSDPA in Germany from Vodafone and T-Mobile on you LTE iPad which reaches 42 Mbits. For Vodafone its 70 €/month including 20 GB of traffic, for T-Mobile it’s 75 €/month including 20 GB of traffic, too. The fastest LTE speed Vodafone is offering is 50 Mbits, for T-Mobile its 100 Mbits. And to be honest… wtf do you need more than 42 Mbits at the moment for? Keep your LTE iPad and go for one of my mentioned DC-HSDPA plans… I would never pay that much money a month for that. Cause with the traffic being limited to 20 GB a month, the only reason for Highspeed Internet is gone…

  • John

    Dont blame apple? In the box sold in europe it says 4g (for the wi-fi 4g model). Isnt this false advertising?? Of course it is. I have ipad1, was waiting to by this new ipad, but because of this, i will buy an android tablet with 4g capability. Im an EX-apple customer.

  • James Cull

    Seems like I’m not the only one who got confused here – Apple is now giving refunds to customers in Australia who bought 4G iPads under the pretence that they would work over there. And the UK, Sweden and Denmark are considering similar measures.

    Touché.

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  • JD

    I think many people don’t realise that this isn’t the problem of a few technologically backward countries. The new iPad is only LTE compatible in 2 countries of the world, the US and Canada, nowhere else. To advertise it as LTE compatible world-wide, as it is right now, and sell it for more money in countries where it isn’t compatible than in the countries where it is, is misleading and the fact that Apple is changing the packaging and refunding customers who bought it based on this misleading advertising is an admission of this. I wonder how different reactions would be if it was only compatible in, say, Germany or Sweden, not the US.

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