AT&T Reverses: You Can Use iPhone 5 FaceTime Without Wi-Fi (Updated)

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After months of complaining, AT&T will now doing the right thing, unchaining customers with regular tiered data plans to use FaceTime on their LTE phones and iPads with nothing more than a cell signal. It's good, but definitely not enough.

AT&T says the change will take place within the next "8 to 10 weeks," and also provides a brief justification for dragging its heels on this:

"With the FaceTime app already preloaded on tens of millions of AT&T customers' iPhones, there was no way for our engineers to effectively model usage, and thus to assess network impact. It is for this reason that we took a more cautious approach toward the app. To do otherwise might have risked an adverse impact on the services our customers expect – voice quality in particular – if usage of FaceTime exceeded expectations."


One bummer: those grandfathered into "unlimited" iPhone data plans of yore will be excluded, AT&T confirmed to us.

Another bummer: this only applies to LTE devices, which means if you've got anything less than the latest iPhone or iPad model, you're also out in the cold.


But still, mostly good news! Soon we'll be able to FaceTime from the beach, sidewalk, or mountaintop. But don't forget, this will completely murder your (overpriced) data quota and bankrupt you if you aren't careful.

Update: Not an update on news, but of insight. Free Press Policy Director Matt Wood has the following to say about AT&T's decision, and I'm inclined to agree. This is good news, but it's not enough. Wood argues the following:

"The law is clear. AT&T cannot block FaceTime based on claims of potential congestion. There's nothing even remotely reasonable about that approach. AT&T simply can't justify blocking an app that competes with its voice and texting services unless customers purchase a more expensive monthly plan that includes an unlimited amount of those very same services. AT&T's course correction is a move in the right direction, but until the company makes FaceTime available to all of its customers it is still in violation of the FCC's rules and the broader principles of Net Neutrality .


Right on. This is a good step, but AT&T is still resisting the principle that matters most: we should be able to use the devices we buy the way they were designed, without hobbling that's cooked up to earn money for a corporation.