News and Views for Wednesday August 22
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AT&T's FaceTime Fiasco

Not content to have lost face with the loss of T-Mobile via acquisition, AT&T has come out with its rationale on why it will force people who want to use FaceTime over the 3G/4G/LTE network into a share plan, and in doing so, is getting just crucified in the press. 

Let's start with Stacy Higginbotham of GigaOm and's Derek Turner. Both basically call it anti-consumer from the outset. Read them for their take, while I share my views below.

First off, AT&T and all the rest of the carriers provide ACCESS to the Internet. They don't provide the Internet. The real crux of the issue is that wth FaceTime pre-loaded, the AT&T network may literally melt at the backhaul level-that's the sending of the data from your phone to their network and even before they are it to the Internet. It's that simple.

But the effort by AT&T to manage and limit, who can use what today will not be only about FaceTime users. It will begin to impact Skype when it comes pre-loaded on Windows Mobiles, GoogleTalk on Android, as well. 

Over in Spain MVNO Mas Movil says to customers, come to us. Use the apps you want. If you look at T-Mobile's move yesterday to go "really unlimited" they are positioning to get users over to their network, which in 2013 will have LTE. If at that time, T-Mobile gets to offer the iPhone, AT&T and Verizon will finally have some competition. Also, if Sprint comes out and says, use FaceTime on our network all you want, they too will have reasons to take users away.

To me this is more of a technology issue, being disguised as something else. But the FCC has not been loving AT&T the past year or so, and they may find out again there even less loved.


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The bundled v. non-bundled argument is specious at best; but AT&T is not aware of this, given the fact that they are so tone-deaf to consumer sentiment. The FCC will be less kind to them once they actually do a financial impact analysis between $/MB between plans. My own back of the envelope calculations for what I use say I will pay 50% more per MB on the shared minute plans that AT&T would move me to if I wanted to use FaceTime over 3G/4G.

Fortunately for me, I do have an alternative. As my plan from AT&T expired in June, I got AT&T to unlock my iPhone 4 and I went to T-Mobile while waiting to see what happens with the iPhone 5. The plan I have is $60/mo less than the one I had from AT&T. Also, since T-Mobile will have a compatible 4G offer including LTE later this year, I'm set whether I decide to buy the new iPhone or keep my existing iPhone.


I switched to Sprint from AT&T with iPhone 4S. Sprint sells me "unlimited" data and as far as I can tell does not restrict my use of FaceTime. That said, I have perceived a degradation in the quality of Sprint's 3G service in the Bay Area over the past year. Seems to me, none of the US mobile carriers is prepared to offer customers unflawed, unlimited voice and data. The country may just be too big for any one of them to get it right everywhere.


I think the worst part of it is that AT&T has picked a fight over something so irrelevant.

The probability of truly mobile video-calling (FaceTime or any other app) becoming widely used is infinitesimally small. Videotelephony has been available on mobile phones for 10 years and it's been uniformly ignored by absolutely everyone.

That hasn't been for reasons of usability, price, quality or interoperability - but simply because there are virtually no real-world use-cases. You can't use it if you're walking or driving, it's ergonomically awkward to hold the phone in front of your face (and you have to shout at it) and so on.

Virtually nobody will be using FaceTime anywhere that doesn't have WiFi. It's not quite as useless as "see what I see" video-sharing, but it's pretty close.

Dean Bubley

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