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.