What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet …
-- "Romeo and Juliet" by William Shakespeare, 1595
Consumers in Australia caught Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) selling the new iPad with 4G branding even though the device actually can't connect to the 4G LTE services there. Complaints and regulatory investigations followed, and the government agrees that Cupertino is misleading the Australian public. Similar scenarios are playing out in other places where the iPad is incompatible with regional 4G LTE networks, such as Sweden and the U.K.
Apple's response? It's all just semantics. In today's National Poetry Month tribute, we're reminded that a rose is a rose is a rose no matter what you call it. The same logic should apply to network speeds.
Wherefore art thou, Apple?
According to court papers filed in Australia, Apple argues that Telstra's 4G LTE services may not work with the iPad but the carrier's HSPA+ network does. That network standard is faster than the networks we typically think of as 3G. Therefore, Apple says, it's perfectly fine to market the iPad as a 4G device.
Purists will fume over this argument, but Apple has plenty of precedent to fall back on. In America, T-Mobile USA insists on marketing its fastest devices, like my own Samsung Galaxy S2, under the 4G moniker although the network is really just a souped-up 3G standard -- the same HSPA+ protocol that Telstra uses.
I'm a fuming purist, of course, but even so, I have to concede that Apple's marketing message is pretty much on point. If consumers think of 4G service as "whatever's faster than 3G," then the Australians have nothing to complain about.
Everybody else is doing it, so why can't Apple and Telstra? Of course, this tactic might backfire if the elegant fruit decides to make a truly compatible iPad or iPhone that would play well with international technology choices, or if Telstra rolls out another LTE frequency that's in the iPad's supported range. What would they call it -- 4G+? 4.5G?
A slippery slope by any other name would feel as slick
The whole marketing circus undermines the value of defining international standards at all. The lines blur faster than Lady Gaga's mascara in a Bangkok monsoon. At some point, a 5G device from France might just be a 4G phone in America or a 6.2G+ in Japan. In a world like that, would you ever feel safe that your phone will work with other networks on overseas vacations or business trips?
A few mobile-service providers have the power to make a difference thanks to their global reach. Vodafone (NYSE: VOD ) runs mobile networks nearly everywhere you look, including a barely minority interest in Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) Wireless. France Telecom (NYSE: FTE ) manages the Orange brand on four continents. Telefonica (NYSE: TEF ) runs the gamut in South America, touches all the major markets in Europe, and is the only Western company with a foothold in the Chinese market thanks to its stake in China Unicom. These and a handful of other operators with worldwide ambitions could end the naming confusion at the drop of a hat, alone or in concert.
There's no doubt that high-speed smartphone and tablet connections have created a massive market for device builders and network operators alike. Isn't it time to end the confusion before it gets out of hand and starts to damage the business opportunity? Discuss in the comments section below and make sure to add Apple to our My Wathchlist service. It's a free and easy way to keep track of all the latest Apple news and analysis. Get started today!