U.S. wireless carrier AT&T announced Thursday that its customers using LTE devices can now use the FaceTime video chatting service via the company’s cellular network at no extra charge with any tiered data plan. The limitations in AT&T’s announcement exclude any iPhone prior to the iPhone 5, as well as the company’s customers using grandfathered “unlimited” data plans.
Apple’s FaceTime service was initially limited to Wi-Fi connections but the launch of iOS 6 allowed the service to be used over cellular networks with the permission of each carrier.
In the U.S., iPhone carriers Verizon and Sprint quickly announced that they would not charge customers an extra fee for using the service beyond the standard cost of any data that FaceTime consumed while in use. Conversely, AT&T at the time infamously stated that the company would restrict access to FaceTime over its cellular network, only allowing customers using its Shared Data Plans to place FaceTime calls.
AT&T cited loopholes in U.S. Internet Neutrality regulations to justify its decision, stating that the company was entitled to subject FaceTime to “reasonable restrictions.”
Shortly after AT&T’s decision, advocacy groups filed a Net Neutrality complaint against the company with the Federal Communications Commission, arguing that AT&T’s policy of charging customers more (as a result of the more expensive Shared Data plan requirement) for the same data was a “clear violation” of FCC rules.
With AT&T’s announcement Thursday, the company has addressed some, but not all, of the charges levied against it. AT&T’s decision to limit FaceTime over cellular to LTE devices prevents Apple customers with any iPhone prior to the iPhone 5, or any iPad prior to the third-generation model, to use the service, even though many of these devices are technically capable of doing so. Long-time AT&T customers with “unlimited” data plans are also excluded from the change in policy.
AT&T stated that it expects to implement its new policy over the next “eight to ten weeks.” Customers who are unhappy with the LTE limitation may consider switching to Verizon or Sprint, which allow any iOS 6 phone or tablet to use FaceTime over their cellular network.
As always, however, all iDevice users, regardless of carrier, can enjoy unlimited free FaceTime access while using a Wi-Fi network.