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January 17, 2013

AT&T to Allow Free FaceTime over Network Coverage, But Not for Unlimited Data Users

By Carlos Olivera, TMCnet Content Producer

On Wednesday, AT&T (News - Alert) announced, through a blog post, that it will be allowing customers to make more FaceTime (News - Alert) calls over cellular coverage for no additional charge.

The decision comes with some parameters. When AT&T first unveiled FaceTime over network coverage last September, only customers with Mobile Share plans and those with an LTE (News - Alert) device with a tiered plan could make FaceTime calls for no additional charge. AT&T will now open it up to customers with non-LTE tiered plans, while alienating those customers who have an unlimited data plan.

Although AT&T was recently named the Most Popular Private Cloud Networking Provider, and its FaceTime feature is still free for all users over a Wi-Fi connection, the company is facing some criticism from some like Matt Wood, policy director at Free Press, who thinks it’s unfair and against the law for some customers to have the feature while others are out of luck:

"AT&T's announcement is another step in the right direction. Yet as we've made clear all along, the company has no right to block the application in the first place. Until AT&T makes FaceTime available to all of its customers, it is still in violation of the law and the broader principles of Net Neutrality. We remain ready to bring our complaint unless AT&T finishes the job and stops blocking this application altogether." Wood said.

AT&T customers who have the unlimited data packages will also be able to enjoy Facebook’s (News - Alert) new Call feature, which is also exclusive for iPhone users. Both the free FaceTime and Facebook call feature need to be connected to Wi-Fi to avoid carrier surcharges so I don’t see one as more advantageous than the other, but it offers yet another way to keep in touch with family and friends.

"As devices get more and more sophisticated, the challenge for operators will be meeting consumer's expectations for better performance and always-on connections when they're in areas where 4G networks are unavailable.  Directing data traffic between Wi-Fi, 3G and 4G networks with an intelligent offloading system is now critical. The operator needs to manage network congestion in order to keep or attract iPhone users, and the experience needs to be seamless to ensure that new device launches (iPhone or any other) don’t result in an explosion of support calls along with data traffic," says Carla Fitzgerald, VP of marketing at Smith Micro Software.

Back in September, AT&T said it wanted to roll out the feature slowly while it monitored the impact that FaceTime had on the network, and it will continue to monitor with no word on if and when the feature will be available to unlimited data customers.

“We will continue to evaluate usage, but I can’t speculate on the future,” said Mark Siegel, an AT&T spokesman.

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO Miami 2013, Jan 29- Feb. 1 in Miami, Florida.  Stay in touch with everything happening at ITEXPO (News - Alert). Follow us on Twitter.

Edited by Brooke Neuman
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