FaceTime over cellular is possible under iOS 6, but will your carrier allow it?


At WWDC 2012, Apple SVP of iOS, Scott Forstall, announced one of the major new features of iOS 6 would be FaceTime over cellular. Introduced in iOS 4, FaceTime has been Wi-Fi only up until now, despite the widespread availability of 3G and 4G networks, and despite rival products like Skype having access to video of cellular for a long time now.

So the question becomes, will carriers allow it now?

Rumor has it the carriers have been the ones blocking it up until now, fearful that FaceTime would be far more accessible and popular than Skype, and place too much of a burden on their sometimes fragile networks. Does Apple announcing FaceTime over cellular as an iOS 6 feature mean all the carriers have changed their minds? Of course not.

Apple announced MMS for iPhone in iPhone OS 3 and AT&T blocked it in the U.S. until iOS 4 a year later. Tethering is still a huge mess across many carriers.

To find out, Marketwatch asked the major U.S. wireless companies about their plans for FaceTime over 3G and 4G.

The carriers that offer the iPhone wouldn't comment on their plans for offering FaceTime on their networks, but an AT&T spokesman said the company is "working closely with Apple on features disclosed for iOS 6, and we'll share more information with our customers as we get closer to launch."

So there you have it, a firm "no comment" with a dash of "maybe".

Are they afraid FaceTime users will clog their networks? Or burn through capped data plans and then complain bitterly? Make it available only on tiered-plans and launch a popup the first time a user tries it, warning them of data usage. Done.

Marketwatch gives voice to some of the same silly fear-mongering we've heard before, most recently about LTE making it too easy to watch videos, and Retina displays making it likely large images will kill data plans. The truth isn't anywhere near as sensational as that. It's simply that carriers are nervous when it comes to iPhones hitting their networks, and since iOS 6 doesn't ship until the fall anyway, they have time before they have to address it as a customer-facing issue.

When that time comes, however, let's hope saner heads prevail and Apple's FaceTime enjoys the same access Microsoft's Skype enjoys now.

Source: MarketWatch

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, The TV Show, Vector, ZEN & TECH, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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There are 27 comments. Add yours.

GeorgeDW says:

I don't see why there would be a problem. Nobody has unlimited data on AT&T anymore, so users will tend to limit their own bandwidth use. On Sprint and even Verizon most won't get fast enough data to FaceTime in very high quality anyway (since there's no LTE for iPhone on Verizon).

Syncopations says:

"Nobody has unlimited data on AT&T anymore." Are you sure about that? I still have unlimited data on AT&T since the iPhone 3G came out.

Jbbarrette says:

Yup, still unlimited here to!

Bilbo says:

really? when was the last time you gat capped? ohh not yet? because you haven't used more than 3GB a month right? well let us know what happens with your "unlimited" when you'll do lol

CORYK333 says:

Yea man, "lol"......what a pretentious douche

iJobs4 says:

@George - that's exactly the whole point and plus hogging network bandwidth while FaceTimeing just like u would when tethering. I don't think carriers would care if u go over your data cap infact that's exactly what they want but if they do block FaceTime over 3G, that's a good thing on the users end especially non tech savvy iPhone users who don't know sh*t about data and how it works. But I don't care if they do cuz I'll always have my iPhone jailbroken and will be using 3G unrestrictor.

Judhe says:

The only place you have "unlimited" data is in your imagination. Everyone except Sprint unlimited plans are being throttled beyond a certain point, and so they will most likely allow it until you exceed 2GB and then squeez the bandwidth so that FaceTime is unpleasant.
The other question I have is, when is FaceTime getting open sourced? It's been two years, how much more time do they need?

Bilbo says:

hahah. exactly! i'm sorry to break it to these guys but this is the truth, on the contrary, I have more freedom with my 3gb for $30, at least i know when i'm reaching my limit and if i need to use more i wont get capped, just pay another $10 for 1gb, or use wifi whenever possible.

Icebox says:

How will 3g unrestrictor help you if the carriers block the protocol? 3G unrestrictor just removes a restriction in the phone, it doesn't fool the carrier.

Jenna Jameson says:

Having a grandfathered unlimited data plan is the only reason I have stayed with At&T. If this changes and they do not offer it, or if they change my plan, "goodnight Irene" to AT&T.

Mike_111 says:

Yes, carriers were able (allowed?) to block some features, e.g. tethering. But on the other side, AFAIK no carrier blocked (or was allowed to blocked) iMessage. Even though SMS was/is a big money maker for them and iMessage had a big impact on SMS usage. Also Apple said from the beginning (feature unveiling) that tethering and MMS were carrier dependent. But they didn't say the same about FaceTime over cellular. Also Microsoft and Google (will) have similar video chat over cellular features baked in their OS.
Because of all this I feel pretty confident that FaceTime over cellular will work on most if not all big networks, at least within a few months (e.g. it took 3 months for tethering to be enable on the new iPad in Germany via free carrier updates).

Judhe says:

The only place you have "unlimited" data is in your imagination. Everyone except Sprint unlimited plans are being throttled beyond a certain point, and so they will most likely allow it until you exceed 2GB and then squeez the bandwidth so that FaceTime is unpleasant.
The other question I have is, when is FaceTime getting open sourced? It's been two years, how much more time do they need?

Zafod says:

I agree, I would love FT for Windows. It was originally promised, but still nothing...

Kyle says:

I would also love to see FaceTime for Windows, but if it does get released, I'm going to bet that it will run worse than iTunes for Windows

Mike says:

Makes me feel so glad to be in the uk and on the three network. There are no extra charges for tethering and a truly unlimited internet.I have gone through some months with over 3GB used of data and no capped speed. Thank you 3 uk.

Fraydog says:

I would hope Verizon would limit FaceTime to 4G LTE. From a networking perspective, 3G CDMA is almost crammed full. Any more stress and their 3G network will bust.

Zafod says:

Hmmm, let's see. Very few unlimited data plans anymore. FT uses lots of data. Carriers charge you for data overages. I'm thinking, they'll love it.

Kyle says:

With the people on tiered data plans, I'm sure most carriers will welcome FaceTime over 3G as it is extra revenue if it is used enough.
Also I did want to point out in the story above that AT&T blocked MMS on the iPhone until after the release of iOS 3.1 and blocked Tethering until iOS 4.

Raptor007 says:

The carriers will likely block it initially for those on unlimited data plans, charge for it unless Apple pushes them like they did with the iPad 3 tethering feature or say who cares and let users suck up their bandwidth and charge them for overages. I don't see me using facetime that often since I haven't used it more than a time or two so far.

headgamer says:

Couldn't care less whether VZW allows it or not for me. I never use it. ;-)

d2globalinc says:

facetime then siri, your own imore polls show no one really uses these festures.. so i guess who cares.

Michael says:

After reading all the comments I realized something, that most of are talking out of your asses. Obviously you have no idea about unlimited plans. AT&T alone still has about 17 million customers on unlimited data. As for AT&T data pricing, current data plan is 3gb for $30 a month, they don't offer unlimited anymore but for those that have it as I do, it's $30 a month and they throttle our data after we pass 3gb (used to be 2gb). There you go.

CORYK333 says:

How the hell did the comment section for this topic turn into a penis-waving contest about "No, I have unlimited"/"No u don't"/etc....??? See this rubbish all over Android blogs & Verge/Engagdet, don't need it here too. Lighten up clowns. (I await & embrace the hate coming my way)

blancheblaise says:

as Marvin said I am inspired that anybody able to make $6830 in one month on the computer. did you see this web page makecash16com

gogators says:

You mean like the Samsunng phones that already use that feature. It seems as if Apple is just catching up to the competition everytime they update our phones. Bought the 4s thinking I had the latest greatest. Boy was I wrong. Competition has always spurred innovation. So come on Apple, make me want to buy the next generation because it is truly ground breaking new tech and not just because I like Apple. Oh, to all the people who say a bigger screen is the wrong direction. If we had the bigger screens first or more choices of screens we'd be the one's saying bigger is better. We have no other choices. I wish Apple made multiple models to choose from. Just my 2 cent rant!