Apple barred from using ‘4G’ in marketing for the iPad in UK

When is a 4G iPad not a 4G iPad? When it’s outside North America.

Apple has been selling the device billed “4G”, even though the 4G chip inside will work only on 700MHz and 2100MHz spectra in the U.S. and Canada.

In the UK, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), which regulates advertising, will on Wednesday publish an informal adjudication after receiving complaints from disgruntled customers, who said Apple’s claims wrongly suggested lightning-speed browsing.

But the authority could open a new investigation in to whether Apple is mis-leading customers.

“We received 40 complaints about claims for the iPad with Wi-Fi and 4G that appeared on Apple (UK) Ltd’s website,” the ASA tells GigaOM. “Complainants challenged whether the references to 4G were misleading, because they understood that 4G was not currently available in the UK.

“Some of the complainants also challenged the description of the iPad as 4G because they did not believe that the iPad would be compatible with 4G networks when they were introduced in the future.

“When we approached Apple with the concerns that had been raised, it stated it had removed references to 4G from the web page that was subject to the complaints. Apple also agreed to edit a video that contained references to 4G. On the basis that the issues that had been raised with us had been resolved, we closed the case informally.”

Apple’s two main iPad product pages in the UK still refer to “4G” features but direct readers to down-page small print stating: “4G LTE is supported only on AT&T and Verizon networks in the US, and on Bell, Rogers and Telus networks in Canada. See your carrier for details.”

The ASA tells GigaOM: “We have since been contacted by several complainants who have identified other potentially problematic claims about the iPad and 4G on Apple’s website.

“We are currently assessing these new complaints. If it appears that the problem claims we asked Apple to remove are still appearing, will investigate these new complaints.”

Australia and Sweden have seen similar advertising investigations over Apple’s use of language.

Widespread 4G roll-out in Europe is a on a go-slow. But the European Commission has now compelled countries to have firm plans in place by early 2013.

All of that may make the prospects of a worldwide 4G iPhone in June, as some observers expect, less likely than one later in the year.