AT&T could be preparing to charge extra for iOS 6 FaceTime over cellular

AT&T could be preparing to charge extra for iOS 6 FaceTime over cellular

AT&T could be getting ready to charge you extra for using FaceTime over cellular when iOS 6 is launched. At WWDC back in June, Apple SVP of iOS, Scott Forstall, announced one of the major new features of iOS 6 would be FaceTime over cellular. It was unclear at the time if carriers would actually support the service or if they would charge extra for it. 9to5 Mac and MacRumors have independently discovered what looks to be AT&T’s preparations to go the paid route.

In both cases, when trying to enable FaceTime over cellular on an AT&T iPhone running the latest iOS 6 Beta 3, a pop up appeared asking them to call 611 to activate the service. This is similar to what happens when Tethering is activated without an AT&T tethering plan. 9to5Mac notes:

We attempted to bring up the same same error message when enabling the FaceTime over Cellular feature on a Verizon iPad WiFi + Cellular, but the feature enabled without an issue. AT&T charges for a separate plan to use Personal Hotspot on its network, and the carrier appears set to replicate that process with FaceTime over Cellular.

To replicate the process of receiving the above error message, you need to restore your network settings. It is also appearing for some people who have restored to iOS 6 beta 3.

The popup so far has not been found on networks other than AT&T, either in the U.S. or internationally.

Of course we must remember that this is still a beta version of iOS 6 and things will change in the weeks before the launch of the final version. AT&T may have a change of heart and decide to allow FaceTime calls over its network without charging you any extra monthly fees. Having said that, FaceTime would consume a hefty amount of data for each call so it wouldn’t be any great surprise if AT&T saw additional fees as a way to reduce network load, something that has historically been a problem for them.

The question is, would you be willing to pay extra to access FaceTime over cellular data? Or is it long past time AT&T let you use the data you already paid for?

Updates: A Sprint spokeswoman has told The Wall Street Journal, that:

We are committed to our unlimited data and that means not charging for data consumption based on the application

Verizon declined comment.

Source: 9to5 Mac

chrisoldroyd

UK editor at iMore, mobile technology lover and air conditioning design engineer.

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There are 51 comments. Add yours.

Vanti says:

i adore the fact that you said that the big carriers such as at&t and verizon would have a change of heart lol thats just laughable i would bet 100 to 1 that they will be charging for this new feature. And if its already present within the beta that just shows that they intended this the moment they heard the announcement.

Freiteez says:

This is rediculous that they would charge EXTRA for it. Let the people use up their data, who cares. Don't put a fee to use a feature your phone comes with...idiots.

I have AT&T on an unlimited plan but I will probably switch when the new phone comes out. Tired of throttling and this, if true, will just be retarded.

jlb21 says:

I agree totally! Carriers should just be happy that users will eat up data even faster and go into overages. But if course bug companies want to soak every last dime out of their captive audiences. I bet this might cause people to go to Verizon with the share everything plans. Of course we have to wait and see what AT&T charges for this. I just think its crazy. There better be an iOS toggle that allows you to "only use over wifi".

iSRS says:

Let's take a brief survey of the "big two" US carriers options.

AT&T
* Upgrade for a discount and keep your unlimited data plan if you still have it
* Smaller 4G LTE network area at current
* Charge extra for FaceTime ove cellular (rumored. Is it possible this is only for those on unlimited data?)

Verizon
* Upgrade phone for a discount, lose unlimited data (so you are going to use more data using this feature)
* Upgrade phone for full retail, keep unlimited data and remain subject to their strange throttling methods (Top 5% of users (of a shrinking member pool) but maybe only on certain towers, but who knows what towers)
* No known/rumored plans to charge for FaceTime over cellular (again, if you upgrade your phone at a discount, you won't have unlimited data, so what do they care if you use it and need a bigger data pool)

As far as charging for iMessage, I don't think that will happen. The carriers have moved to unlimited texting plans and tiered data, and iMessage uses data, so they aren't losing any money there.

Freiteez says:

There are rumors however that AT&T will follow in Verizon's footsteps. Forcing unlimited data users to go to a tiered plan when they switch from 3G to 4G LTE. If that rumor is true when the next phone comes out, I'll for sure be leaving for Sprint.

OrionAntares#CB says:

It's not really a "retarded" idea as you put it. IF, and that is a big if, they charge for using FaceTime and keep it separate from data usage for their limited plans it's actually logical policy. Of course, knowing the US carriers, it probably just be an extra charge that also uses up your data faster. In essences they'd then be double charging for it.

l.i bruce fan says:

I tend to think the same way, FaceTime uses data, so I could see the carriers fairly banging your data plan for it. But to add on a separate "Feature Charge" is just plain greed.

I was planning on on upgrading my AT&T plan to a family plan so I could get the upcoming iPhone (still on contract with my 4s), but I may have to go with Verizon if AT&T pulls this crap...

Garysturn says:

Agree, Carriers should just be internet pipes. All service: talk, hotspots, text, facetime, and data are all just data and should be priced as just data. We should only have to pay a flat fee for an account plus for the data we use. It will be that way someday if the free market prevails. And I don't think it is right that if you don't use the data you purchase that you loose it at the end of the month. It is fair to have a monthly account fee but other than that data purchased should be data delivered.

I would be willing to change away from AT&T over this issue even though I would seldom use facetime, just because I think it is stupid for them to charge for it. I also think it is stupid to charge extra for texting and for hotspots. If you pay for data you should be able to use it how ever you want and not be charged extra to use your data as a text or as a hotspot or as a facetime call.

Rob White says:

I'm actually surprised AT&T & Verizon didn't implement a charge for iMessage. But if this story holds true expect that to follow.

I'm not a complete Apple critic. I'll give them credit when due. They kept the carriers from putting branding on their phone & mucking up the software. Bravo. I wish others would 'copy' that (assuming Apple wouldn't sue them with an obtuse claim of it being patented or some trade dress nonsense).

But this story proves one thing for sure. As long as Apple, Google, Microsoft et al depend on the carriers to connect people with phone calls, their end user is going to continue to be nickled & dimed & gouged.

chris.lenderman says:

@Rob: They didn't technically implement a charge, but what they did do, was stop offering all reasonable priced texting plans. I was on a $5 200msg/month plan with ATT. They magically switched me to a $10/month plan with 1000 messages, and refused to change it back. I'm sure if I ever made any changes to my plan now, I'd automatically be "upgraded" to a $20/month texting addition.

mjs416 says:

If the carriers try and charge for imessage - I think you will see an exodus back to normal texting. iMessage isnt that feature rich that it couldnt easily be replaced with old fashioned texting.

OrionAntares#CB says:

Don't give the carriers any ideas! A mass exodus back to texting is exactly what they'd want!

chris.lenderman says:

First they're charging for tethering...now this? If we pay for x amount of data, why is it ATT's business how we use it? I could understand if there was extra strain on their network, but I don't believe facetime (or tethering) would be any different than streaming a video on Netflix.

That said, give it a year or two, and you'll need to pay:
$30 for 3Gbs of data
+$15 to tether
+$5 to facetime
+$10 to use Netflix
and they'll probably charge you another $10 just to access the data you've already paid for.

mjs416 says:

Just jailbreak your phone. You can already facetime over cellular and create a mobile hotspot / tether.

chris.lenderman says:

I already do! I mean, I know technically the extra charges wouldn't apply to me (plus I rarely use facetime), but its the principle behind the charge that irks me.

OrionAntares#CB says:

My hope would be that this is a logical charge and meant to offer FaceTime as a service separate from the user's limited data plan so it wouldn't count against it. Though these are US carriers so probably not...

lungho says:

I'd be nice if Apple and other companies turned the tables on AT&T and say, "Hey, if you want to nickle and dime our users to death, then you can't carry our phone."

If enough phone manufactures jumped on this wagon, AT&T would fold like a cheap card table.

Garysturn says:

Better yet would be for Apple to go out with their buying power and buy huge blocks of data and turn around and sell users smaller blocks of data on iTunes so people could avoid the Cell phone companies altogether. Apple could provide Voice over IP phone calls and eliminate the need for a cell phone account. All you would need to do is to buy a GB of data and use it until it is gone and then buy another GB, whether you use it in 1 day or 2 months, it would not matter. In this way the cell phone companies would all have to compete with each other to get Apples business. Apple could offer anyone who owns an iPhone a pay as you go type of service without needing a cell phone company.

jbrandonf says:

Where would they be buying these blocks of data from? The carriers... Who would charge prices that made it more expensive than just signing up directly from them.

xcsdm says:

My guess is that it will be in the 5GB plan, like tethering/hotspot. I'm sure they are only trying to save you overage money. AT&T has our best interest at heart. I am positive they wouldn't force you to a higher data plan, whether you use it or not. They force you to a higher data plan for your protection.

Garysturn says:

Yes, and AT&T will soon offer everyone unlimited calling for one low price of double what you pay now because of their compassion in wanting everyone to be able to make all of the calls they want, and since most people have quite making voice calls since smart phones came out. It is the only way they can insure that all those people who only use a few minutes a month pay their fair share.

And out of compassion they are eliminating the option for 200 texts for $5 and giving everyone unlimited texting for only 4 times that amount because they want everyone to be able to send all the texts they want to send. It is the only way they can insure that all those people who only send a few texts a month pay their fair share.

And out of compassion they will now charge extra to use your data for hotspots or facetime because so many people are not using all of the data they are already paying for and if they don't charge extra for these services they will end up getting them free because they are already paying for more data than they use. Its the only way to make sure those users pay their fair share.

Doesn't this sound like a Politician.

tlo07 says:

"AT&T has our best interest at heart." You're kidding, right?

batsai#IM says:

Interesting. I wonder if this restriction will also apply to AT&T MVNO's. I've been using my iPhone 4S on Straight Talk on their unlimited BOYD $45 a month plan. I'm wondering if the same limits will apply (not that I use FaceTime that much anyway...).

mjs416 says:

With AT&T doing this - expect a whole new wave of jailbreakers entering the scene.

Heisenberg says:

"Change of heart." .... Lol

RMCSteve says:

If you reset network settings after upgrading to ios 6b3 FaceTime over cellular will turn on for AT&T customers. I still think however that AT&T is looking to charge for the feature, as evidenced by the fact the is a mechanism in place to restrict it on the carriers end.

GolfnCPA says:

Not trying to be the devil's advocate here, but if they don't put a fee on Facetime over cellular connection, an already overworked and unreliable network will become even worse.

Iocane Powder says:

This logic implies that by charging more and making more profit they will reduce the network strain and make life better for everyone, presumably by reinvesting that profit into better infrastructure. I think it was back in the late 90's that all the major players got government subsidies/tax breaks claiming they would run fiber to every home in 5 years. They even sued a municipality to force them into NOT providing fiber to their own citizens through a cooperative because they claimed it was unfair competition.....even though no major carrier had plans to provide service to the area at the time (they won that lawsuit btw).

They have had numerous government handouts and raised their prices consistently every 12 - 18 months, hansom profits have been made and yet they have never delivered. I have yet to see more profit for this non-competive industry produce better quality, quantity or reduced consumer pricing.

Dev from tipb says:

Lawsuits were so 1990s; telcos/cablecos have moved beyond that into legislation -- the most recent example being last year's North Carolina law [ http://gcn.com/articles/2011/08/24/agg-broadband-carolina.aspx ] effectively banning municipal or state run broadband.

Garysturn says:

Why do they sell people the data if they can't deliver. Charging extra to use the data you already purchased is like paying taxes on your taxes. They expect people to buy data plans and then not use the data. And they expect people to buy big voice minute plans and not use all of the minutes. Then if an opportunity comes along to use what you already pay for they want to charge more for it.

paleh0rse says:

That's not the only reason they're doing it. The real threat is to their minute-driven cellular call profits. If/when VOIP programs like Facetime and Skype become more popular than traditional cellular calls, every single one of their customers will drop to the cheapest plan, and AT&T won't make as much (any?) money from their current cellular services.

Just imagine if every one of their customers went with a data-only plan -- AT&T's revenue would be hosed!

The writing is on the wall that all connections will eventually become data-only, which is why every single Telco is opposed to net neutrality. They KNOW their non-data days are numbered, and they are VERY scared. Since the FCC currently allows them to do whatever they wish with wireless services, they are doing everything they can to slowly migrate their wireless customers to an "a la carte" pricing structure. If our laws do not change, and the Feds fail to enforce net neutrality across the board, our cell phone bills will eventually look like this:

-----------
Other Data (3GB) (*limited to 2G or 3G only*): $30
Tethering: $15
VOIP Access (3GB): $30
Unlimited iCloud Access: $5
Unlimited Pandora/Spotify Access: $10
Unlimited Youtube Access: $5
Unlimited Facebook Access: $5
Netflix Streming Access (1GB): $10
Amazon VOD Access (1GB): $10
Google Play Movie Access (1GB): $10
Unlimited Game Console Access (*Gaming Only*): $10
Onlive Access (1GB): $10
"We've noticed that you haven't signed up for some of our other wonderful services, to include unlimited access to Wikipedia and other application-specific services, such as iMessage and Google+. If you'd like to improve your connection speeds and data limits to those and other wonderful websites, please call us at 611 to add them to your account today!"
-----------

CrzyP says:

I'm leaving AT&T. That's it! Not that I will ever use FaceTime over cellular, but there could be that day when I want to FaceTime somewhere other than my home or office. The biggest issue is the horrible coverage out in the western united states. I make a lot of road trips and lose AT&T coverage a lot. AT&T is a waste of money and their nickel a dim tactics are crap. I'll let Verizon nickel and dim me to have the better coverage and shared data with tethering. Verizon, I'm all yours come aug 2012!

Dark_Blu says:

They've already capped your data plan. You'd think they'd want you to use Facetime over Cellular just to get you over your data limit but to charge extra for it is a whole new level of greed. I'm glad I escaped from AT&T and Verizon can go to ache ee double hockey sticks.

sting7k says:

Now that everyone is under a data cap or throttled I don't see why they would. People will just hit their limit faster if they do it over cellular anyway. So they would make more if people pay for more data or even switch so that they have that ability.

-ND4SPD- says:

Let's see...
- Unlimited data that's no longer unlimited
- Spotty 3G coverage
- Smaller & slower 4G coverage
- Pay extra to use the data I've already paid for just for tethering
- No shared data plans
- Now paying for FaceTime over cellular munites I've already paid for.....

Oh wait, I can talk, text, & surf the web at the same time. Thank but no thanks. I'll be moving 3 phones (2 out of contract) to Verizon & that just solidified which carrier ill sign up for with the iPad I'm going to purchase this week.

mjs416 says:

Same here. My wife has an iphone contract that is set to expire this month on AT&T. We'll ride it out for another month or 2 and then switch to Verizon when iphone 5 comes out.

paleh0rse says:

Verizon is perhaps THE most vocal opponent of net neutrality, so I think you're going to see them do exactly the same thing in the near future. There is not a single carrier that doesn't want a la carte pricing based on the "type" of data you're using (NONE of them support net neutrality, especially on wireless connections!).

Given the growing viability of data-only service handling everyones' needs, a la carte pricing is their only hope to save profits, so it's also their biggest fantasy!

spanishcop says:

It is becoming more clear to me....... IF SPRINT remains with their decision of unlimited Data for 4G even for the iphone 5.... I will be making my switch over to Sprint and leave AT&T after being with them for 6yrs. I can't believe AT&T and Verizon are going to force us to lose the unlimited data by not grandfathering us in because we are switching from 3G to 4G.

cardfan says:

Lots of excitement over something that hasn't been announced. AT&T will be changing up their plans anyways. I'd wait to see what happens and then do the comparisons. You could still end up paying more for Verizon.

Also, there seems to be some confusion. You don't buy 3 gbs of data. AT&T doesn't expect you to actually use all that. Most use under a gb. If everyone with unlimited or 3 gb plans actually USED 3 gbs a month, AT&T would have a cow and prices would go up. It's easy to see why they charge extra for tethering. But AT&T also still makes a lot from voice plans and they already regret iMessage and the negative effect that had on texting revenue.

Verizon's data sharing plans already take increased data usage from tethering and stuff like facetime into account. (In offering unlimited voice minutes, facetime has no impact here) The user thinks they're getting free hotspots. Verizon highfives it's marketing dept. This is how you charge more without getting users upset.

Dev from tipb says:

<quote> You don't buy 3 gbs of data. AT&T doesn't expect you to actually use all that.. If everryone with unlimited or 3 gb plans actually USED 3 gbs a month, AT&T would have a cow and prices would go up</quote>

http://www.att.com/shop/wireless/data-plans.html#fbid=vVDYmBlpdXN

$30 for 3GB. That is what they promised each and every customer. What the expect is irrelevant. If they oversell their capacity, they could do what an oversold airline does and pay customers to give up what they have paid for -- not reprice contracts because they do not like them anymore. It is not the customer's problem if ATT promises more that they can deliver; it is AT&T's responsibility to deliver what they have contacted to provide. Period.

<quote>It's easy to see why they charge extra for tethering.</quote>
No, it is not. If they are charging only for total usage (not something like sustained throughput), then 3GB of tethering is no different than 3GB of netflix is not different than 3GB of browsing imore. It is easy to see why they *want* to, because it is another way they can double dip for the same service, but that does not make it justifiable.

cardfan says:

They didn't come up with those prices based on everyone using 3gb. It's based on what people actually use which is much lower. 3 gb is irrelevant. It's just the ceiling they chose. It's just a number.

AT&T may have "promised" 3 gb for every user but they sure don't expect most users to even use close to it. Or in other words to actually spend the amount in expenses required to give you 3 gbs.

I'm not saying it's fair or right. Just looking from their point of view. Bottom line, Facetime over cellular or offering tethering will increase actual data used or costs for AT&T. You can't argue that. IMO, there's smarter ways to actually charge for this than to be so blatant about it. You only need to look over at Verizon.

Dev from tipb says:

It is just a number...a number that they wrote down in a contract as the number they would provide in return for a certain number of dollars per month.

*That* is the bottom line. I give them those dollars in return for that much bandwidth. A legally binding contract.

I agree with you -- AT&T not planning on people using 3GB when they set those prices. Arguably, they screwed up in their estimations. But "we screwed up" is not now, nor has it ever been, a legal justification for failing to live up to the terms of a contract.

cardfan says:

They don't have to say "we screwed up." They just have to work around it and offer tethering as a new service above and beyond what their regular data plan entails. And they do this. All they have to do is add facetime to their data plans that include tethering but cost more.

Dev from tipb says:

Working around it is redefining the contract. It doesn't matter if the admit they screwed up or not -- you are not allowed to redefine a contract simply because you signed one you did not like. To sum up:

1) AT&T chose a number.
2) AT&T miscalculated the number.
3) AT&T wants to unilaterally redefine the terms of the contract because their step #2 is not to their liking.

And make no mistake, this is redefining the contract. Tethering is carried over data. Facetime is carried over data. Unless they can make a persuasive case that these forms of data are somehow different, if I do not violate the 3GB cap, they have no right to reclassify it as s different service.

Perhaps turning it around will make it clearer.

1) I sign a contract with AT&T that gives me unlimited nights and weekend minutes, but only 450 minutes a month during normal hours. I agreed to this, because I estimated 450 minutes would be enough.
2) I find more calls than I expected take place during 5PM-9PM, and therefore decide that 5PM-9PM are not normal hours for me, but not really nights & weekends either. I am "working around it" by calling them twi-night hours.
3) I pay AT&T half-rate minutes accrued between 5 and 9 PM, because twi-night hours at half rate are a new feature of my contract.

Do you think that would go over well, or is even remotely fair?

If not, why should the other party to the contract (AT&T) have that ability?

cardfan says:

I'm not sure myself how they can cherry pick this particular service (facetime) for additional charges or even put in their tethering data plan considering they DON'T do this to skype or other like kind apps. And come on, facetime is just another voip app although one built into every iphone.

Tethering might be a different issue since those apps aren't allowed anyway.

But I wasn't trying to defend AT&T. I'm not for making Facetime a premium add on. Only trying to point out why they would want to..

Dev from tipb says:

I'm with you...I just think what they are doing is, at best, unethical, and probably should be considered a breach of contract.

But I can get *why* they want to do it. I want to declare all my minutes twi-night hours, too, but somehow the rule-flouting only seems to apply to large corporations. :)

kmichalec says:

Please do it, AT&T. I dare you! Try it and watch how fast I drop your lousy service. You've done nothing but try to nickel and dime us for everything that's standard features in other countries. And we've let you get away with it, mostly cause you were the only game in town with the iPhone. We'll not anymore. We have a number of choices now, including Pay As You Go carriers. Coverage may not be as good, but at least they are trying to rape us on the cost either.

Your move. I'll gladly leave...

mikehuntertz says:

Att "unlimited data" here. I was throttled last month mid way through my billing cycle??? I turned of wifi & auto lock, plugged my phone in & turned on slingplayer. I hit 33+ GB by the end of the month (everyone should do this!!!) Well, one week into my new unthrottle billing cycle I checked my data & I was already at 1.5 GB. WTF??? I opened up my itemized data & found att had two days from last billing cycle on this month?!?! I spent 1.5hrs. on phone sat. They "said" they will correct this but as of today they have not. This means I will be throttled after 1.5 GB on my "unlimited data" this month. I am on paperless billing so i requested itemized data for the last year. They have not complied with this either. iMore should do a story on THIS! Everyone should watch their data bills very closely. There is no way in hell i will stay with att when the next iphone gets LTE!!! There is NO customer service, just lies & theft!

dudeski321 says:

Say what? This is pathethic.. If any Norwegian carrier tried pulling this kind of bs they'd get regulated into oblivion. X)

Rocktapus says:

i wouldn't mind an extra facetime charge if it stays separate from your data limit. i don't really have a need for facetime over 3G anyway because it'd probably waste a ridiculous amount of battery to use it.