Carriers Quiet About Offering FaceTime On Their Networks

At the WWDC keynote last week, Apple announced that iOS would finally support FaceTime over cellular networks, as a part of the iOS 6 update.

While this greatly increases the utility of FaceTime, it again raises the question of how much load would the extra data consumed during FaceTime calls generate, and would carriers be able to sustain this load.

MarketWatch spoke to an AT&T spokesperson as well as a few analysts regarding the data overhead FaceTime could case.

AT&T’s spokesperson didn’t say much:

The carriers that offer the iPhone wouldn’t comment on their plans for offering FaceTime on their networks, but an AT&T spokesman said the company is “working closely with Apple on features disclosed for iOS 6, and we’ll share more information with our customers as we get closer to launch.”

Analysts estimate FaceTime’s per minute usage to lie between 1.5MB to 7.5 MB, which translates into 11 hours of talk time from one gigabyte of data use at the lowest rate. At the highest rate, it would give about two hours and 15 minutes of talk time. The large variation is due to FaceTime’s ability to adjust the quality of the call as per the bandwidth available.

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An analyst with Forrestor estimates FaceTime’s user base to be larger than Skype, indicating how much of an impact it could have on carriers’ networks.

The threat of an overload would be considerably reduced after major carriers AT&T and Verizon discontinued unlimited data plans and throttled existed subscribers, and it might even increase their data revenues. Sprint, however, still offers unlimited data plans, and it’ll be interesting to see how their networks are affected.

While Apple’s site now says that FaceTime over cellular requires an iPhone 4S or the new iPad, earlier versions of the site said that this feature would be available to iPhone 4 and iPad 2 users as well. This created a bit of a confusion, and it might very well be possible that Apple is offering this feature to a smaller set of users to reduce the load on carriers. After all carriers were the reason that FaceTime wasn’t 3G compatible from day one.

And even though Apple has announced the feature in iOS 6, it is still possible that your Carrier will play spoilsport and may not allow that feature initially (just like the mobile hotspot feature).

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