When Apple announced at WWDC that FaceTime would (officially) work over cellular data networks, the company deftly avoided offering up much in the way of details. Now that iOS 6 beta 3 has been released into the wild though, a clearer picture of how Apple and their carrier partners will handle the situation is beginning to emerge.
The folks at 9to5mac discovered last night that attempting to enable FaceTime over 3G on an AT&T iPhone running on the most recent iOS 6 beta would bring up an interesting little message: To enable FaceTime over cellular on this account, contact AT&T at 611 or visit http://www.att.com/wireless.
It looks an awful lot like AT&T is planning to charge customers for using FaceTime over 3G, though the revelation isn’t particularly out of character. Allowing customers to FaceTime call their friends and family over-the-air for free would be a generous gesture, but considering the additional strain that functionality could put on AT&T’s network (which can be flaky enough in certain locales), there’s little chance that AT&T would let customers video chat all willy-nilly without trying to get something out of them first.
Interestingly enough, 9to5mac tried the same process on a Verizon iPad and weren’t greeted by the tell-tale “talk to customer service” notification. That’s not much of surprise either though — once a prepaid data plan has been set up, the LTE-capable Verizon iPad allows you to use the tablet as a mobile hotspot without any interaction with the carrier itself, so it’s little surprise that enabling FaceTime over 3G is a similarly straightforward process.
Of course, it’s possible that this may all just be a big misunderstanding. AT&T offers a different set of data plans for iPhones than it does for other smartphones despite the fact that they’re functionally identical, so it’s possible that the carrier will require a data plan that has just been classed differently in their backend for some reason.
If AT&T does end up charging separately for FaceTime though, one has to wonder how exactly they’re going to do it. It’s worth noting that this isn’t AT&T’s first go-around with video calling — they launched their Video Share service back in 2007, usage of which they sold in buckets of video calling minutes. It’s certainly possible that AT&T could resurrect that bucket concept, and the carrier could also reconfigure its data plans with new caps to account for FaceTime use. Unsurprisingly, AT&T has declined to delve into specifics at this point, so we’ll have to wait and see how the rest of this story unfolds.