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What is 4G?: Will the new iPad 4G+WiFi work with 4G in the UK?

UPDATED: The new iPad 3. We’ve been lucky enough to get some hands-on time with one and its pretty amazing.

If you’ve been sniffing around on Apple’s UK site and various deals pages for the new iPad then you might have noticed that the more expensive, non-Wi-Fi only new iPads are being sold as ‘Wi-Fi + 4G’, whereas before they’d have been sold as ‘Wi-Fi + 3G.’

Understandably there’s some confusion here. 4G services aren’t yet live in the UK. 4G/LTE is of course live and kicking in many other markets (including Apple’s native US) but what does this mean for us? 4G isn’t here right now, but if the Ofcom consultations and auctions happen on schedule then we ought to get 4G/LTE within the next few years. By which time, we’d imagine although we’ll be on to iPad 5/6 (probably) there will be plenty of people still with new iPads.

What is 4G/LTE?

4G is the name given to LTE (short for ‘Long Term Evolution’) that will provide faster web browsing and download speeds (at 100Mbps and higher) on our mobile phones and tablets as well as potential for clearer HD Voice calls in more areas.

4G/LTE isn’t currently available in the UK. There are live 4G trials taking place right now and Ofcom has planned an auction between the networks to decide which parts of the UK’s radio spectrum can be used for 4G services.


Will the new iPad work with 4G/LTE when it’s live in the UK?

The short answer is no. The new iPad will not work with 4G/LTE when its live in the UK, despite it working with 4G/LTE in the US.

The reason for this is spectrum bands. 4G mobile broadband in the US occupies different frequencies than spectrum that’s being mooted for 4G in the UK does.

In the States, the 700/800 and 1700/1900 MHz bands are used, whereas in Europe and the UK, 800, 1800, 2600 MHz (or 2.6 GHz) bands are being used for the 4G rollout. This basically means that the ‘type’ of 4G if you will, that the new iPad works with, is different to what will become 4G in the UK.

So, no 4G/LTE for the new iPad in the UK. What about faster 3G speeds?

This is where things get a little confusing. As you might have heard, Three recently announced that it was upgrading its network to be capable of ‘4G’ speeds.

This summer Three will be rolling out HSPA+ 21 and HSPA+ 42 across its 3G network. This will give us faster top download speeds – 21Mbps and 42Mbps – on our phones and tablets – including the new iPad.

HSPA+ will offer faster speeds – but it’s not 4G. ‘True’ 4G is LTE (Long Term Evolution) that will offer even faster browsing and download speeds. In the UK, the new iPad won’t be compatible with True 4G/LTE, but will be with HSPA+.

The confusion comes from branding exercises from across the pond. T-Mobile in the States called its fast HSPA+ network ‘4G’ when this isn’t strictly accurate – 3.5G or 3.75G might be a better name.

Similarly, AT&T in the US is calling its HSPA+ network 4G – even going so far as to get Apple to change the iPhone network indicator with the recent iOS 5.1 update.

So although we aren’t technically getting true 4G speeds in the UK, the HSPA+ speeds we will be getting are called 4G by two of the networks in the US.

Who is getting HSPA+ in the UK?

Three, Orange and T-Mobile (under the Everything Everywhere umbrella) are busy rolling out HSPA+ speed boosts on their networks. HSPA+ 21 is available in some areas now, but the big rollouts are due to begin in the summer.

Three told Recombu; “Our rollout of HSPA+ 21Mbps technology is already very advanced, and we are finalising our plans now to bring dual carrier HSPA+ technology running at the 42Mbps technical standard to the UK later this summer.

This leading-edge 3G technology, which the new iPad can run on, will deliver fantastic speed benefits for our customers.”

As for Orange and T-Mobile customers, a spokesperson for Everything Everywhere told us that; “the rollout [of HSPA+ 42] technology to customers before Christmas,” and that “60 per cent of the network will offer complete 21Mbps connectivity by the end of September 2012 in the UK.”

It’s currently “not clear how much coverage [Orange and T-Mobile] currently offers on iPad launch day,” but we understand that faster HSPA+ 21 speeds offering HD video streaming will be available in some areas.

Everything Everywhere’s spokesperson said that the HSPA+ 21 rollout will; “deliver an estimated 50 per cent increase in data download speeds (and up to 100 per cent faster for upload of pictures, music and video) for customers with compatible devices, allowing them to take traditionally fixed-line activities, such as HD video streaming, on the move.”

Will we ever get true 4G/LTE in the UK?

Ofcom has proposed that true 4G/LTE coverage will eventually serve 98 per cent of the UK and that the 4G auction should begin during the last quarter of 2012.

The 4G auction is the process by which the four main UK mobile networks – O2, Orange, T-Mobile (as Everything Everywhere), Three and Vodafone – decide who can make use of which slice of the spectrum.

A Three spokesperson told us that “Three will be running an LTE trial on the 2.6GHz bandwidth in the next couple of months, in preparation for a national rollout of this technology when the spectrum becomes available.”

Everything Everywhere has conducted rural and urban live trials in parts of Cornwall and in Bristol.

Last month Everything Everywhere CEO Olaf Swantee told us that “Everything Everywhere’s vision is to launch 4G for Britain as soon as possible, and the roll out of 3.5G HSPA+ and our 4G trials across Britain are major steps towards delivering on that promise…

Everything Everywhere will be in a position to begin the roll out of 4G before the end of the [2012].”

So, why has Apple called the new iPad ‘4G and Wi-Fi’?

It’s easy to see why Apple marketed the cellular and Wi-Fi versions of the new iPad as having 4G – because 4G is readily available in Apple’s home market, the US and iPad can get it.

Rival Android devices such as the recent LG Spectrum have been able to make use of the faster 4G network speeds and Apple understandably wants to provide customers with the fastest service possible.

While it won’t be compatible with UK 4G, it will with US 4G, hence the name and Apple certainly doesn’t want to call the product different names for the UK and US.

Hopefully by the time that the 4G rollout begins in the UK we ought to be gearing up for the announcement of the next new iPad, presumably early March 2013.

By such a time we’d hope that Apple will be able to make its next tablet compatible with the emerging UK 4G networks.

UPDATE: Apple has now made a quiet adjustment to the iPad sales pages clarifying.

The iPad with Wi-Fi + 4G model can roam worldwide on fast GSM/UMTS networks, including HSPA, HSPA+, and DC-HSDPA. When you travel internationally, you can use a micro-SIM card from a local carrier. You can also connect to the 4G LTE networks of AT&T in the U.S. and Bell, Rogers, and Telus in Canada.


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