AT&T to expand FaceTime over cellular access to tiered LTE customers

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More AT&T customers will soon be able to converse face-to-face with their friends and loved ones no matter where they are. The carrier on Thursday published a post on its Public Policy Blog announcing its intentions to bring FaceTime over cellular to all customers on tiered LTE plans over the next eight to ten weeks.

While Apple has offered FaceTime over Wi-Fi networks since the introduction of the iPhone 4 in 2010, the company only introduced FaceTime over cellular networks as part of iOS 6. The company first demoed the update in June and later released it in September. In August, AT&T said that it would only allow the feature to customers who subscribe to one of the carrier’s Mobile Share plans, which offer pooled data for multiple devices or customers (at less cost-effective prices for many users). The company’s main competitors, Verizon and Sprint, on the other hand said they would allow the use of the feature on their networks without restrictions.

Many customers were not thrilled with the restriction, with some groups claiming that AT&T’s decision was in violation of the FCC’s net neutrality strictures, an allegation that an AT&T executive publicly and vehemently denied. Instead, AT&T said, it was concerned with the impact of the feature on its network, given the volume of iPhones it supports.

The carrier’s stuck to its guns with that reasoning, which is why there’s an asterisk attached to Thursday’s announcement. AT&T’s now expanding access to the feature to those customers on tiered LTE plans, which means that it only applies to those customers using an iPhone 5, or third- or fourth-generation LTE-enabled iPad. Furthermore, it excludes iPhone users who have had their existing unlimited data plans grandfathered in. This isn’t the first restriction of this kind for those AT&T customers—they’re also ineligible to use the Personal Hotspot feature of iOS, which allows them to share their cellular data connection with other devices.

By restricting FaceTime over cellular to its LTE customers, AT&T cuts out customers on the iPhone 4 and 4S, who likely make up a larger percentage of its iPhone subscribers. The carrier did say, however, that it would monitor the effect of the feature, and will likely be able to offer the feature to “customers on other billing plans in the near future.”

In its post, AT&T also said that as of October 26 it will roll out billing plans for deaf and hard of hearing customers to allow them to use FaceTime over cellular as well, but it didn’t offer any specific details on those plans.

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