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New iPad 4G LTE incompatible with networks outside North America

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Despite being labeled a '4G LTE-capable' device, Apple's third generation iPad will likely be incompatible with the radio frequencies supporting the wireless technology outside of the U.S. and Canada.

When Apple took the wraps off the new iPad on Wednesday, Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller announced that the company is currently working with North American telecoms that support the LTE standard, meaning that upon launch the device may not be compatible with other countries' 4G frequencies.

On Apple's international websites, the iPad Wi-Fi + 4G model is advertised as being LTE-capable, though reading the fine print reveals that the radio bands supported by the device are not the same as those used outside of North America.

As noted in the footnotes of the iPad's tech specs page:

  • 4G LTE supported on AT&T and Verizon networks in the US; Bell, Rogers and Telus networks in Canada. 4G data plan is sold separately.
  • The iPad with Wi-Fi + 4G model you purchase is configured to work with a particular mobile network technology. Check with your carrier for compatibility and 4G data plan availability.

According to Apple U.K.'s info page, the new iPad will support the 700MHz and 2100MHz LTE bands found in the stateside AT&T version, which don't match the 800MHz, 1800MHz and 2600MHz LTE bands being rolled out across Europe.

iPad tech specs from Apple's U.K. webpage. | Source: Apple

In a recent report, AnandTech discovered that the new iPad uses Qualcomm's MDM9600 baseband chip which supports UE Category 3 LTE, CDMA2000 1x/EVDO Rev.A (and B), GSM/EDGE, and WCDMA/HSPA+ to DC-HSPA+ 42 Mbps.

If Apple decides to stick with the Qualcomm part over the lifetime of the new iPad, European users hoping to use LTE will likely be relegated to roam on AT&T's LTE network during trips.

Interestingly, Japan's iPad Wi-Fi + 4G model doesn't even have LTE support, with bands only going up to DC-HSDPA.

Phil Schiller
Apple exec Phil Schiller speaks about the new iPad's LTE capabilities. | Source: Apple

Making the situation more confusing is Apple's description of what qualifies as 3G. On its U.K. page, the company lists HSPA, HSPA+ and DC-HSDPA as 3G technologies, however the recent iOS 5.1 rollout changed the "3G" icon on iPhone 4S units operating on AT&T's HSDPA network to read "4G."

Schiller noted during Wednesday's special event that while 4G LTE bands differ from country to country, they will likely follow the path of 3G and unify at some point. Until that time, however, Apple will be forced to make separate models to support the different LTE frequencies, which is why the AT&T version is incompatible with Verizon's. This holds true for LTE bands worldwide.

It is unclear whether new partnerships will result in the deployment of new international LTE-capable versions of the iPad, though Apple is said to be working on deals with a number of telecoms to get the ball rolling.