AT&T changes tune, allows VoIP over cell network for iPhone

All engines, full reverse! That’s the order AT&T seemed to be giving on Tuesday when it announced that it would be altering its existing policy to allow Internet phone applications such as Skype to place calls over the iPhone's cellular data connection.

Previously Skype and other Voice over IP (VoIP) applications for the iPhone, such as Fring, were relegated to Wi-Fi connections, prompting calls of foul play by consumers who often wanted to take advantage of features like the services’ cheaper rates for international calling. An FCC investigation was launched in April at the behest of Internet advocacy group Free Press, shortly after the Skype app was released for the iPhone.

Notably, the ban did not apply to non-iPhone devices on AT&T’s network. “Today’s decision was made after evaluating our customers’ expectations and use of the (iPhone) compared to dozens of others we offer,” AT&T Wireless CEO Ralph de la Vega told The Wall Street Journal.

While some alleged that AT&T’s desire in keeping Skype off its data network was a way of stifling competition and forcing customers to use the wireless company’s international calling options, it’s also been suggested that AT&T was worried about the amount of traffic the immensely popular iPhone could bring to bear on its network.

Somewhat coincidentally—if you believe in such things—earlier in the day, Google and Verizon held a joint press conference to announce their new partnership, in which the two companies stressed network openness.

The decision today does not apparently affect other applications that suffer from similar restrictions, such as the iPhone version of SlingPlayer Mobile, which allows users to stream video from their home devices only over Wi-Fi connections. Nor does it affect the contentious Google Voice service, which uses the standard telephone functions of the cellular network to route phone calls to and from users.

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