For a long time, AT&T had chosen not to allow VoIP applications like Skype to run over their 3G network. In October 2009, the company finally relented and agreed to allow VoIP iPhone apps to run over 3G.
Back then, we saw this as a direct outcome of FCC's investigation over AT&T's role in the rejection of Google Voice app from the App Store.
It is now over three months since AT&T's announcement and we are yet to see Skype running over 3G. So why hasn't this happened? Why hasn't AT&T delivered on its promise? The answers to these questions are supposedly with Apple. Apparently, it is not AT&T, but Apple that has chosen not to let these iPhone apps run over the 3G network.
In a recent article on their website, Seth Weintraub from 9to5Mac quotes a Skype employee as saying:
"Many of you have also been asking when we'll release a version which allows you to make calls over 3G – the holy grail of Skype on the mobile, if you like. We've had a 3G-capable version ready for some time now, but Apple's current restrictions mean that they won't allow us to make it available on the App Store for the moment"
It is not clear why Apple would choose to block VoIP running over 3G. Seth questions if this has something to do with Apple developing their own line of VoIP over 3G applications. He points out that it is the norm with Apple that they choose to block third party iPhone applications that replicate features that are already available on Apple devices or are in the process of being made available.
We did a quick search on the USPTO database for any related patents and came across only this patent. This Apple patent, filed in July 2009 discusses a method for "transparently routing a telephone call between mobile and VoIP services". The inventors describe this as a way for the device to connect a call through the internet when the user is in a stable internet coverage area and seamlessly transfer the call through the mobile network when the internet coverage is down.
We are not sure if this has anything to do with Apple's decision. It would be interesting to see if Apple is planning to launch such a feature in their next generation iPhone OS. Having said that, if it is something that is going to take as long as that, it only makes sense that Apple makes way for VoIP iPhone apps to run over 3G until then with the current limitations, where the call would get dropped when the internet coverage is down.
What's your take?