Verizon Confirms Free Access to FaceTime via Cellular Data

Verizon Wireless will not charge customers extra or require that customers purchase specific data plans in order to use FaceTime over its cellular data network, the U.S.-based mobile carrier stated late Wednesday in a press release. FaceTime over cellular networks will also be available for U.S. iPhone customers on Sprint, although AT&T has controversially restricted the feature to its shared data plans.

FaceTime over Cellular

Originally announced during WWDC in June, Apple’s new iOS 6 mobile operating system will officially allow FaceTime video calls to be placed over cellular data networks for the first time. Mobile carriers have the ability to limit this feature, however.

Data used by FaceTime calls over cellular networks will count against a user’s data allotment, but carriers have the option to charge extra for using that data, as some do with “mobile hotspot” features, or limit FaceTime cellular use to certain customers or plans.

Sprint was the first U.S. mobile carrier to explicitly state that FaceTime calls made via its 3G data network will be available to customers without additional charge, an announcement it made in July. “We are committed to our unlimited data and that means not charging for data consumption based on the application,” a Sprint spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal at the time.

More recently, AT&T took the opposite approach to that of Sprint, by stating that FaceTime over its cellular data network will only be available to customers of its new Shared Data plans, notably excluding early iPhone customers who remain grandfathered into “unlimited” data contracts. AT&T’s “reasonable restrictions” on FaceTime access drew the criticism and ire of many longtime iPhone users.

Following Apple’s special media event Wednesday, Verizon, the last major U.S. iPhone carrier, joined Sprint by stating in a press release that it, too, will not charge customers extra or require specific service plans for FaceTime access over its 3G and LTE data networks: “...customers wanting to use FaceTime on their iPhone 5 can do so using any Verizon Wireless data plan allowance,” the press release states.

It should be reiterated that the debate among mobile carriers about FaceTime access applies only to video calls made over cellular data networks. All iPhone customers, regardless of carrier, can place and receive unlimited FaceTime calls while connected to a WiFi network.

Of note, Apple has not identified a specific time at which online preorders of the iPhone 5 will begin on Friday via its own store, although the Verizon press release states that customers can pre-order the iPhone 5 from the carrier’s website Friday, September 14, at 3:00 a.m. EDT.