Apple Uses Its Own Definition Of 4G
April 20, 2012

Apple Uses Its Own Definition Of 4G

Michael Harper for

When Apple released the iPhone 4S, they completely sidestepped the entire issue of 4G, saying their new phone worked at “similar speeds” as 4G networks when connected to a HSPA+ network.

After the new 4G LTE capable iPad had been announced, the company released an update to their iOS software which brought about a small yet significant change to American AT&T customers.

In the top left hand corner of the screen, what once said “3G” to define the type of network the phone was connected to now said “4G.” As these AT&T phones (and other international carriers as well) run on HSPA+, Apple decided to make the lead from “similar speeds,” to “4G.”

As millions of iPhone users began to notice this small change on their screen, questions about Apple´s intentions began to surface.

“Why would Apple change that icon to 4G when the iPhone isn´t a 4G equipped phone?”

Some even thought this change was a bug, or a feature slip, acknowledging the new iPhone´s super fast capabilities.

Now, as Apple is engaged in a legal battle with Australian regulators and carriers, this subtle change becomes significant.

As the new iPad launched in Australia, many early adopters were disappointed to find their new iDevice didn´t offer the next generation mobile technology 4G LTE like they thought it would. As it turned out, Australia´s only carrier to offer 4G doesn´t operate their 4G LTE networks on an iPad compatible frequency. As users complained, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) took Apple to court, asking them to not only offer refunds to those customers who want one, but also to do away with the 4G moniker, calling it false advertising.

Nothing doing, says Apple, claiming they were completely upfront since the launch about the tablets inability to run on Telstra´s network. Furthermore, says Apple, the iPad is in fact still running on a 4G network. Telstra supports HSPA+, the network Apple began to refer to as 4G when iOS 5.1 rolled out, one week before the iPad released worldwide.

Rather than change the technology, Apple had simply changed their definition of 4G.

The entire debate centers on what is and what isn´t “4G.”

According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), an international body which sets standards for telecommunications services, there are only 2 “true” 4G networks with the appropriate technology, LTE Advanced and WiMax Release 2. Neither of these technologies is very widely deployed, however.

Technically, the carriers can and often do refer to their HSPA+, LTE, and WiMax networks as 4G. The ITU gives their blessing to this branding as their networks provide a “substantial level of improvement in performance“¦with respect to the initial third-generation systems now deployed,” according to the Washington Post.

This fuzzy definition of 4G is what allows all major US carriers to have their own brand: HSPA+ for AT&T and T-Mobile, LTE for Verizon, and WiMax for Sprint.

As for the case between Apple and the ACCC, the Australian Federal Court will begin proceedings next month.