Would you pay to use FaceTime over the cellular network?

Evan Selleck
Contributing Editor from Arizona
Published: July 17, 2012

It’s all fun and games until someone starts charging you to do something. That’s kind of the way I’m looking at this recent news that Apple’s FaceTime video-calling service could see charges for the first time since its inception. In all honesty, I’m not surprised at all that this has popped up. Carriers love to charge for features, and for those of you out there who have wanted to make a voice call without being tethered to a Wi-Fi connection, apparently being able to do that would be considered a “feature.”

I would just say, “It’s about time.” But that’s just me.

FaceTime has been around for a little while, but the only way you can use it is through a Wi-Fi connection. That is changing in iOS 6, though, as Apple announced at WWDC 2012 that the newest version of the mobile operating system would now allow for FaceTime video calls over the cellular network.

I remember seeing mixed reactions to that particular announcement. One, it’s great that you can now do that, but at the same time it is coming a little late. There are still folks out there with unlimited data plans, but they seem to be becoming the minority. Releasing something that consumes data so quickly now that subscribers don’t have access to unlimited data seems a bit strange. But that’s how things go.

It’s good that Apple is turning on the feature, but it isn’t so good that that also means it may see the first charges applied to it since its launch. According to a report late last night, it looks like AT&T may be gearing up to start charging for FaceTime usage on the cellular network. The report cites a pop-up that shows up once you try to use FaceTime over the network, indicating that if you want to use FaceTime in that particular fashion, you need to get in touch with an AT&T representative.

It’s the same notification you get when you try to use the mobile hotspot feature on your iPhone, but you don’t’ have it activated on the network side. So, connecting the dots would have the general assumption be that you need to talk to an AT&T representative to gain access to using FaceTime over the cellular network.

All of this happened after Apple released the third beta in iOS 6, mind you.

Like I said above, this isn’t surprising. Using FaceTime over the cellular network is going to bring down a lot of packets, so it would make sense that AT&T would want to get a handle on that in some way or another. By Apple just allowing everyone who uses iOS 6 to use the feature, their network could take a big hit. Making people pay to use it, though, would immediately limit the amount of people on the network using that feature. Whether it’s because it would be too expensive, not offer up enough data for the price, or people just don’t want to pay for it at all, it’s a good gatekeeper.

But there’s the big question, right? How does AT&T figure charges for something like that? People are already paying for data allotments every month, so how is AT&T going to dole out FaceTime packages? Are customers going to have access to another gig of data every month, if not more, that they can pay for in packages similar to what they’re already paying? Or is just a flat amount every month, which eats data from their current packages, the way they'll go?

I think that latter option isn’t the right way to go. We know that FaceTime calls use a lot of data, so just charging subscribers for the ability to make FaceTime calls over the network without offering more data just doesn’t seem like it would be the right way to do it. But, I can see how offering up another set of packages, all with different price points and different data allotments every month could get confusing for just about everyone.

Here’s another interesting question: are the other carriers that officially carry the iPhone 4S (and 4) going to charge for FaceTime usage over their cellular network? I have an iPhone 4S running the third beta for iOS 6, and I tried to make a FaceTime call over Verizon’s 3G network – no pop-up telling me to contact customer support. It just worked. With the same “connect the dots” mentality, it would seem that Verizon doesn’t mind if you start hogging up the network with your FaceTime calls, as long as you keep paying for your data the way you are.

That could change, obviously, so we’ll see what happens.

How do you feel about rumors that AT&T could start charging for FaceTime calls over their cellular network when iOS 6 launches? Would you be willing to pay for it? Or are you perfectly content waiting to go near a Wi-Fi network? Let me know in the comments!

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