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 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.


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…