April 6, 2012 10:02 pm

Apple iPad faces UK advertising scrutiny

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Advertising authorities in the UK are scrutinising the marketing behind Apple’s latest iPad following complaints from customers about misleading references to access to superfast 4G mobile broadband that is not available in the UK.

Mobile operators also refused to use marketing materials from Apple that refer to the 4G capabilities of the new iPad. The US technology group has been criticised by the British mobile networks as the device has not been designed to work on the spectrum assigned to European 4G services. In the UK, the auction of spectrum assigned for 4G use does not even begin until the end of this year.

One person at a leading mobile operator told the Financial Times: “It was an issue as marketing materials had references to WiFi and 4G. We asked them to change it and pushed back relatively hard on the 4G stuff. They normally tell us what to say and when, which is fine as they know their business, but suddenly they talk about the network and it went all wrong. The 4G references are going.”

Apple sent the first store marketing materials to the operators last week that carry references to “ultra fast wireless” and access to “fast data networks” rather than any specific 4G promises.

It has also updated its website since launch to make clear that the 4G will only work in the US and Canada, although this may not be in time to prevent an investigation by the UK Advertising Standards Authority, which has the power to take action retrospectively. The ASA said it had received 24 complaints that references to 4G on Apple’s website were misleading, and is considering launching a full investigation. Apple declined to comment.

The new iPad has been the strongest tablet launch yet for Apple, dominating sales in an increasingly well-established category. Apple said it sold more than 3m iPads in the three days after launch on March 16.

Apple controls all marketing and advertising materials for its devices, unlike some manufacturers which allow the operators a say in how they position the products in stores and online. The marketing materials are expected to roll out in operators’ stores this week, many of which are still having to advertise the iPad 2 model.

Apple has already run into trouble elsewhere in the world for references to 4G – also called LTE – networks which allows access to the internet several times faster than the existing 3G services. In Australia, where 4G also operates on a different frequency to that of the iPad, it was taken to court and forced to offer refunds.

The new iPad will not be able to use the 4G networks in Europe even where they are available, which includes countries such as Germany and parts of Scandinavia.

The iPad is designed to use the bandwidths of 700MHz and 2.1GHz that have been assigned for 4G networks in the US and Canada, while European regulators have cleared the 800MHz and 2.6GHz channels for 4G use. In the UK, for example, the 700MHz spectrum is still used by Freeview digital TV. The new iPad can use a technology sometimes called “3.5G”, or HSPA+ or DC-HSDPA, however, which is faster that than 3G.

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