“Apple fined over Australia iPad trouble”

This annoys me.

Granted, I spend many hours on here, spouting about how I know that Apple are pretty good at what they do, but todays rant is coming from a totally different angle. Many of you are aware now, that I did my honours thesis on Mobile Communications. As such, I know a thing or two about how it all works, although I’m not about to claim to be some kind of expert.

For those of you who are not aware, the above quote taken from an article in The Independent relates to a court battle which Apple has lost in Australia regarding The New iPad. They’ve lost the case, because it is incompatible with the LTE networks which are used in Australia, and as such the Australians do not see how the iPad can be branded as a ‘4G’ device.

There is a great anomaly surrounding so-called 4G, with many different specifications and alternatives currently floating around. However, the globally accepted standard appears to be LTE, despite my recommendation in my thesis that we should go for Wi-MAX, providing both a high-speed mobile network and a global wireless internet access system simultaneously. Killing two birds with one stone, we’d be able to increase internet access in both our homes and whilst out, and it would work with everything we have already.

Of course, that doesn’t work well for hardware manufacturers, Apple included…

Bar the United States, there are few countries which have successfully began implementing a TRUE 4G cellular network. Some claim to, some are working on it, but as I said before there is a great deal of confusing regarding what 4G really is, and I intend to clarify this right now.

LTE stands for ‘Long Term Evolution.’ A fitting name, the motivation behind LTE is to create a new mobile network standard which will stand the test of time more effectively than 3G did. There are two subdivisions of LTE; LTE and LTE-Advanced. True 4G, which will be covered later, is the latter of the two. Networks classed as LTE are not fully 4G, but comply in the sense that they are based on the same standards which will

The ITU-R, the radio communication sector division of the ITU, are responsible for defining the specification for new wireless communication systems. 4G was drafted over 10 years ago, and the ITU-R intimated that for a mobile network to be truly classed as 4G, it should be aiming to provide an experience which lends itself to high-speed data provisioning, and the delivery of broadband internet access to remote areas. Although new networks will continue to provide traditional means of conducting telephony, the emphasis is now on moving to an IP-based core network, to converge services onto the same core standard, and thereby make them more scalable and efficient.

This is all that the ITU-R do. They do not design the solutions themselves; manufacturers develop systems and present them to the ITU-R, in the hopes of being awarded a license and a section of electromagnetic spectrum in which to operate it.

The ITU-R also has the responsibility of ensuring that the available electromagnetic spectrum is divided equally, and that only one service is broadcasting on a particular segment of it. 

There have been several attempts to create a 4G network, and some of the confusion regarding it comes from the mobile networks themselves, which I’m going to explain now.

3G was based on a standard known as UMTS. It outlined a new core network and radio access method for wireless networking in the third generation, but was also compatible with legacy networks, such as GSM, to allow an easier migration from 2G to 3G. 3G has been improved however, and in it’s latest iteration, which is known as 3.9G, is High Speed Packet Access.

High Speed Packet Access, or HSPA, is an IP based form of mobile networking. On an HSPA connection, a mobile device can see a download rate of around 7.1Mbps. Upload rates peak at around 2Mpbs. As with an Asynchronous DSL link, the upload rate is expended to make downloads faster, as it is assumed most subscribers will spend a greater majority of their usage receiving, rather than sending. HSPA can be further broken down into 2 components: HSDPA and HSUPA. The D and U can be interchanged for Download and Upload, respectively, and only refers to the uplink and downlink of the connection.

For those of you with Android phones, this is what the ‘H’ means in the status bar at the top of the screen. iOS users, the phone just says 3G regardless of the type of network you’re connected to. 

HSPA has evolved in itself; adequately named HSPA+. On an HSPA+ connection, and in perfect radio conditions, a subscriber can expect a peak data rate of 168Mbps down and 22Mbps up. This is under perfect radio conditions, i.e. when standing in the immediate proximity of a cell tower and in the absence of external interference.

The latter is a phenomena that is wholly impossible to reproduce, as wireless interference is present everywhere.

The ITU-R have ruled that, despite HSPA+ being too far beyond the original 3G specification for it to be considered a 3G networking method, it does not come close enough to the minimum requirements of 4G to qualify. However, as it’s based on the technology which will power LTE-Advanced, mobile networks can brand their HSPA+ services as 4G if they see fit.

Now, spot the problem.

In the United States, AT&T operate an HSPA+ network, alongside the LTE-Advanced network which they are currently rolling out. They market it as a 4G network, and as such, Apple were forced to modify the iPhone 4S with iOS 5.1 to display ‘4G’ on the status bar when the device connects to an HSPA+ network, thereby tricking consumers who owned an iPhone 4S into thinking they had purchased a 4G device unknowingly.

This is not the case.

In Australia, HSPA+ networks are also in operation, although no providers down under market them as 4G, through their own choice. The New iPad is compatible with HSPA+ networks, along with LTE networks provided by AT&T, who’s network is predominantly GSM based, Verizon and Sprint, who’s networks use Quolcomms IS-95 standard plus it’s third and fourth generation developments.

The problem we have here is spectral availability. Although the ITU-R governs radio communication globally, the responsibility for it is devolved to a group in each country. OfCom is the organisation which is responsible for the use of spectrum in the UK.

When a new mobile service is developed, it is given a license to operate within a particular band of the electromagnetic spectrum by the ITU-R, through the local governing body of the country it operates in. This permits the systems operation in that country.

This does not guarantee however, that the same segment of electromagnetic spectrum is available in every country which the system is going to operate. Hence the issue we now have in Australia…

The same goes for us unfortunately. For LTE-Advanced to be implemented in the UK on the same band as the US, the digital television service will need to be moved. Not something that many will be happy with, as this will require a change in end-user hardware, in order to be able to pick up channels on the new band that would be needed.

Apple got into trouble with marketing legislation in Australia, for falsely advertising the capabilities of the device in Australia. They’ve already been forced to re-write the web-page for the iPad on their website, stating that:

4G LTE is supported only on AT&T and Verizon networks in the U.S. and on Bell, Rogers, and Telus networks in Canada.

Nothing can be done about this by Apple. The iPad is a 4G compliant device, as ruled by the ITU-R, as it connects to networks which meet the 4G specification which they outlined. It is not the job of a hardware manufacturer to align the infrastructure of several countries.

I think this is utterly ridiculous, and it would not have received half the media attention it had if Samsung had been at fault here. Apple is an American company and will naturally ensure that customers on home turf are satisfied before looking elsewhere.

I have nothing against the Australians. However, the networks themselves must realise the potential business growth the iPad would hold for them, and as a result they should be looking to standardise on the same band for LTE as is used elsewhere.

It’s really not that much to ask. After all, standardisation of cellular communications is what led to the development of GSM by the Europeans; to allow mobile communications to continue to operate seamlessly, in a continent where there is a great amount of inter-population movement. Subscriber migration is now on the same scale globally, so these countries that throw a hissy fit because one hardware manufacturer has done something that doesn’t match up with them need to wise up.