The Apple iPad and 4G
Some months ago (on the day of the first sales of the new iPad), I expressed a concern about people trying to move the new Apple iPad from AT&T to Verizon (or back) in this post on LTE spectrum fragmentation. The LTE implementations are different in these two units and Customers did not realize this until it was too late:
So, if you just ran out today and splurged on the latest third-generation Apple iPad for use with Verizon or AT&T (in the US), I hope that you stay happy with the Carrier you selected. Since you will not be able to move service to the other provider any time, now or later not with the same unit, that is!
In April, in this follow-on post, I noted that the issue had indeed become a problem with iPad sales in Australia, and thought that the problem might worsen for them:
Other Countries and LTE at 700MHz
The problem is actually worse than described above for the Apple iPad in Australia. The two versions of the new iPad can only use the Verizon and AT&T 700MHz bands, respectively and separately and these bands are not in use in any other country in the world today!
Unfortunately, I am not aware of any disclaimer wording in Apple web site stores in countries other than the US the problem may get worse for them in the very near future.
Of course, this lack of use of the same two 700 MHz bands outside the US, and the addition of the disclaimer by Apple, was (and is) subject to change.
From Australia to Europe
Sure enough, Apple has discovered that this issue is something that is becoming a problem for them outside Australia too.
According to the news in this article, Apple has been barred from using the term 4G in ads in the UK. Even though Apple went ahead and added a tiny disclaimer into their web site stores in the UK (and some other countries too, from what I understand), they did not entirely remove all references to 4G.
Not surprisingly, this disclaimer is proving to be be insufficient. Customers are either overlooking it, or more likely, complaining knowledgeably that the ads could still be misleading, since the current US versions of the iPad may never be usable in their countries. For example, in the UK, the 700 MHz bands used by Verizon (band 13) and AT&T (band 17) are used by local digital television transmissions, and are very unlikely to become available for LTE usage with the current iPad.
In other European countries, for example Sweden, customer complaints are starting to occur. The Swedish Consumer Agency may be launching an investigation into whether Apples advertising is misleading.
Is Apple at Fault?
Not really we cant really blame Apple too strongly for this situation, in my opinion. They needed LTE to provide fast network performance in the new iPad, and their choices were constrained by the LTE frequencies used in the US, and the chipsets and cellular radios available to them.
As mentioned above, the choice of 700 MHz Verizon or AT&T LTE in the current iPad means it is unlikely to ever work in LTE mode in the UK for example, since those bands are already in use for digital television broadcasts.
And I cannot expect Apple to provide many country-specific iPads today, for a variety of reasons:
- It would be an impractical manufacturing, distribution and sales problem for the iPad.
- Not all countries (and their Carriers) where the iPad is sold, have cleanly declared which of the available bands will be used for LTE.
- Chipset and cellular radio manufacturers have not yet overcome constraints to use multiple LTE bands in the same units.
- Carriers have not yet given the cellular radio and handset manufacturers the business freedom to make multi-Carrier units.
Until these problems are solved, any Device using LTEiPad includedwill not have LTE service outside the country and Carrier from whom the device was purchased.
Carriers and LTE Devices Are a Bit Different
For Carriers deploying LTE here in the US and other countries, the vast majority of Customers who have LTE units do not try to roam onto another Carriers footprint yet! (This will change soon enough, as more LTE units are sold.)
Furthermore, the LTE smartphones being sold today are unique to each Carrierthe Customers do not expect to buy LTE units from AT&T to use on Verizon and vice-versa. Nor do they buy LTE devices from Vodafone in Europe to use on AT&T here in the US. And, of course, purchasers of cellular service are generally aware of the limitations of cross-technology roaming. They have become knowledgeable about the inability to use CDMA units in GSM markets, and vice-versa.
When roaming into other Carriers, or into International markets, they also know that they may have to use 2G or 3G service (assuming that the phones are quad-band).
As long as the Customers have 4G in their home markets (or the Carriers are expected to eventually provide 4G in their home markets), these are acceptable limitations. Indeed, Customers are buying iPads in many US markets that do not yet have any LTE service with the entirely reasonable expectation that it will be there in the next few years.
But The Apple iPad is Unique
Basically, Apple is pretty much the first large non-cellular handset entity to get caught up in this issue of spectrum fragmentation because of the global sales of the iPada product that is considered to be a data device not a cellular smartphone sold by a local Carrier in that country.
And the difficulties with the iPad underscores what will happen when the oft-rumored iPhone 5 (presumed to have LTE) is released later this year as believedApple must restrict sales to the country where there is a Carrier available to provide service for the 4G LTE in those product versions.
Thus, I expect that the initial Apple iPhone 5 release will be restricted to the US for a while, since it will likely use the current-generation LTE chipsets that just support Verizon or AT&T (or, possibly, Sprint).
If and when other countries (like in Canada perhaps) deploy at those identical frequencies, the sales of the current iPad and next iPhone can be expanded to those markets.
And, this is a problem for Apple, since their global success with the non-LTEiPhones has been outstanding!
A Few Possible Solutions
New Multi-band Chipsets and Radios
Clearly, LTE chipset manufacturers will improve their designs and products to support multiple bands more easily and effectively the only question is When?
It will take time for these new chipsets and radios to enter the market, and time for them to be incorporated into radios and new Devices. Since it takes many years to design and market chipsets, handsets, smart-phones, etc., this is not a quick solution.
And, unfortunately, this is not going to solve the short-term problem for Apple in the iPhone 5 that is expected this year.
Global Cooperation for a World-wide Common Band
To provide world-wide operation for 4G LTE, there will have to be global national cooperation to find a common band dedicated for International roaming purposes. And, agreements by the Carriers to support that frequency and deploy services.
It may be time for national governments to offer a free release for one wide band of common global spectrum, and allow multiple Carriers in each country to operate in that band. And require Carriers to support that common frequency band as a condition to use other, local, bands for LTE.
To provide a global roaming capability, that free of cost release of a common band, with some conditions (i.e., required LTE deployment) for the Carriers, would be a real benefit to the Customers. You heard this proposal here first, folks!
Unfortunately, given the current global economic climate, this is unlikely to happennational governments are simply too enamored with the revenue that spectrum auctions can generate. And, there are some other practical concerns.
But it is not impossible.
What About M2M?
Multiple LTE Bands
The current estimate is that it will take 6 bands to support all the LTE deployments by US (and possibly Canadian) Carriers, and up to 10 to 12 bands to create a truly global LTE Device.
This is not likely to happen cost-effectively for M2M Modules and Applications for quite a long while, and may remain impractical for higher cost smart-phones too. The design problems and complexity of a multiple number of LTE bands in a radio will be tough to implement for quite a while.
Thus, as you can probably tell, I am still not hopeful that LTE will be usable by most M2M Applications for a number of years.
The longevity requirementM2M Devices stay deployed for many, many yearsmeans that some Customers may not be able, or willing, to risk large-scale volume LTE deployments today with a single Carrier in a single country, except for those few M2M Applications that need 4G speeds in those specific areas.
In time, multi-band chipsets and multi-band support by the M2M Module manufacturers will solve this problem.
Dedicated M2M Band ... Fantasy?
Or we could fantasize that the global common frequency band mentioned above could be dedicated just for M2M Applicationsthat would solve the problem of large-scale M2M deployments on LTE, and gain rapid acceptance of LTE by the M2M industry too.
Since most M2M Devices do not send or receive a lot of data (i.e., unlike consumers), even a single 10 MHz allocation (for a 5 x 5 FDD LTE deployment) might be sufficient, without congestion, for a large number of M2M Devices, for a long time.
Given that the prediction is that there will be billions of M2M Devices by 2020 and beyond, maybe it is time to dedicate spectrum for M2M Applications!
What are your Comments?
Please send me your comments on the above post. Like I had mentioned in an earlier post, I would really like to hear from people who are deploying M2M Applications using LTE.
As before, although I dont specifically identify Trademarks in my posts, they are implied. For example, Apple, iPad, and iPhone are trademarks of Apple, Inc., registered in the US and other countries.