The rumor mill is churning around AT&T, suggesting that the wireless carrier is planning to charge iPhone users for FaceTime calls over its cellular network.
The rumored change is expected to hit consumers when iOS 6 rolls out later this year. Up until now, FaceTime has only worked between two Wi-Fi-enabled phones. Apple will make it possible to video chat over FaceTime on cellular networks this fall.
The rumor is based on published reports that imply users may see an error message when they try to run FaceTime over AT&T's cellular network. This error message displays in iOS6 beta testing when a user tries to make the FaceTime cellular connection: "To enable FaceTime over cellular on this account, contact AT&T at 611 or visit http://www.att.com/mywireless."
Neither AT&T nor Apple were immediately available for comment. But we caught up with Weston Henderek, a principal analyst at Current Analysis, to discuss the rumors. He told us he doesn't have any official information on the speculation.
"If AT&T started to charge for connecting to FaceTime over the cellular network it would open up a big Pandora's box because there are so many other similar services out there," Henderek said. "If you are going to charge for one, what about the others?"
So-called over-the-top services, which include free text messaging, Skype and FaceTime, have become popular with consumers looking for ways to reduce the number of minutes they use and avoid carrier charges for texting. Carriers, meanwhile, are looking for ways to discourage consumers from going over the top.
Carriers Scared of Apple?
Henderek pointed to Verizon Wireless' new unlimited data plans as an example. Consumers are forced to choose tiered levels for data access. If every plan comes with unlimited voice and messaging services, it renders some of the over-the-top providers useless. Consumers don't need a free text messaging app if unlimited text messaging is included in the plan, for example.
"If you are using FaceTime on Verizon, in theory it really wouldn't matter how many [voice] minutes you have -- it would just be pulling data from your bucket," Henderek said. "But the video portion of FaceTime on a wide area network is going to pull a lot more data than other activities. So it's like you are going to pay for it even if there is no direct charge to link to FaceTime. It's kind of a hidden fee."
Henderek said he would be surprised if AT&T issued a separate fee for connecting to FaceTime over the cellular network unless the carrier plans to tie in an additional service. Still, he said, the carriers are a little scared about what Apple is up to.
"On one hand Apple is a great because of the iPhone," he said.
"But the problem they are facing is Apple's ecosystem. Apple products like FaceTime and iMessage link together with all a consumer's Apple products. So if you have an iPad, a MacBook, an iPhone and an iPod Touch, and potentially new Apple TV product, you can communicate with all your different devices at once. That's not something the carriers can offer today."
Posted: 2012-07-18 @ 4:26pm PT
August 2nd, my AT&T plan is done, after having them for 18 years. They charge too much now.