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Sprint won’t charge for 3G FaceTime

FaceTime is basically a video calling software application and related protocol developed by Apple Inc. for supported mobile devices running Apple’s propriety operating system, the iOS, in addition to Macintosh computers running Mac OS X 10.6.6 and higher. It works with the front facing camera on these devices, also known as FaceTime camera.

Apple had showcased the next version of iOS, the iOS 6, at WorldWide Developer Conference (WWDC) 2012 keynote speech. The new version of Apple’s proprietary operating system will supposedly bring over 200 new features to the platform. Some of the main features include Siri being able to communicate in multiple languages and FaceTime being able to communicate with the aid of 3G networks.

FaceTime is a great feature, but honestly speaking, it has been in existence for a long time in the name of “Video Calling”. It is not a ground breaking technology, and FaceTime in its current state is not even able to communicate over 3G network and requires a WiFi connection in order to connect to the other person, something which is not cool as even a good aging non-smartphone phone is able to route video calls over 3G.

With the launch of iOS 6, Apple is said to address this issue. iOS 6 will finally allow the user to initiate a FaceTime call over 3G. The fact that FaceTime will be able to use cellular network data puts carriers in a position to charge as it will be competing with its own offering.

When AT&T was asked about their opinion on the matter, they expressed a statement similar to what they had stated after the keynote: “we’ll share more information with our customers as it becomes available.” At the Aspen conference, he slightly amplified his remarks, saying that “I’ve heard the same rumor,” in regards to an additional fee for FaceTime over 3Gm and adding that “it’s too early to talk about pricing” as AT&T is working with Apple to get the technology optimized.

Sprint on the other hand was brave enough to confirm that it won’t be charging for accessing the service and will stay committed to its unlimited data plan, and that means that they won’t be discriminating data consumption from any particular application. AT&T, however, has already discontinued its unlimited data plan for iPhone and has moved on to tiered data plan back in 2010. Verizon Wireless, which happens to be third major carrier in the US to sell the iPhone, has not commented on the issue yet.

The FaceTime video data will be of lower quality than when it is on WiFi. According to a test by MacNN, 6.1 megabytes of 3G bandwidth is consumed for every minute of FaceTime call. Taking Verizon’s cheapest data plan into consideration, which is 1GB per month for $50 per month and $40 per smartphone sharing the data, users communicating with each other, daily for 5 minutes per day should theoretically exhaust their bandwidth cap in 16 days.

If ever AT&T chooses to charge for FaceTime calls separately, it will be violating November’s new net neutrality rules according to which ISPs are prevented from blocking unwanted services, and are required to disclose how they handle network congestion. For mobile carriers, they are forbidden from meddling with non-carrier communication apps, such as iMessage or Skype which potentially races with wireless provider’s own offering.

In an official statement, FCC is said to have been “monitoring any and all developments in this matter involving AT&T and a competing communications protocol. If events warrant, we will make a further statement.”

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