25 Comments

Summary:

Apple may be planning to add 3G data support for FaceTime on iOS devices, based on some recently published screenshots. Many have wanted FaceTime on a mobile broadband instead of Wi-Fi networks. But I’m not sold that it’s a good idea. Here’s why.

ipad facetime

Apple may be planning to add 3G data support for FaceTime on iOS devices if these screen shots from AppleInsider are a clue. Many have long desired to use FaceTime on a mobile broadband network instead of Wi-Fi, which is where Apple’s video chat service is limited to now, and I’m in that camp myself. But I’m not sold that it will happen or if it’s even a good idea just yet.

From a consumer perspective, FaceTime over mobile broadband networks sounds great, at least initially. But people may feel otherwise if the application doesn’t provide the same level of service as it does today over Wi-Fi networks. Apple runs the risk of negative feedback on the experience if FaceTime calls don’t look clear, if they offer broken audio or simply drop due to limited coverage.

I recently tried a similar experiment and experienced this problem firsthand. Using a data-only SIM card in my Galaxy Nexus smartphone, I signed up for a very low-cost SIP account which enabled free VoIP calls over a data network. This is a great alternative to paying for voice minutes and the service was fantastic … where I had coverage.

The problem of dropped or missed calls kept growing over several months’ time — and note that voice uses far less bandwidth than video — so I recently gave up the approach and went with a low-cost traditional voice and data SIM card from Straight Talk. And guess what happened? No more missed or dropped calls.

I suspect many consumers would find the same issue using FaceTime over 3G unless — and this is a possibility — Apple were to offer seamless Wi-Fi switching on a FaceTime call. Even then, there will still be some folks that move beyond available 3G coverage and not have a wireless hotspot nearby.

On the surface then, FaceTime over 3G or 4G sounds great; as long as you don’t move too much when you get a call. Once we have true nationwide 4G networks supplemented with Wi-Fi hotspots and vast roaming capabilities, FaceTime over mobile broadband might be a viable option that Apple considers.

  1. Jeff Kibuule Monday, May 21, 2012

    It’s a horrible idea. Networks can barely handle video downloads, and uploading would put an extra strain on the network. Maybe when the iPhone gets LTE it might be worth revisiting.

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  2. All video and VoIP solutions are not equal. SIP just does call set up. There is a lot of variance in the processing and transport of media between end points so it may be that your recent experience was nothing like what an Apple experience would be like.

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  3. I am not usually one to comment, just read and leave is my style.. but this, I have to say I can see this ending very badly for some people. My current plan sets data costs at $2/mb, imagine the kind of bills someone could make with that?

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  4. Does anyone actually use FaceTime anyway?

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    1. I use it all the time.

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    2. I would use it 50% more if it was available on 3G! ;-)

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    3. Anthony Markle Tuesday, May 22, 2012

      I use it every day.

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  5. The best way I have found to test this out may at first sound strange … But I have tried Skype video calling and to my surprise it wasn’t too bad. No dropped call or jerky images. If Apple are considering this then it may not be a bad thing. What say you? Anyone else tried an alternative?

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  6. I use Swype on my Razz Maxx 3g. Works fine. Wouldn’t want to be without it. Of course, I have a grandfathered unlimited 3/4g plan.

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  7. My wife and I use Facetime all the time we have to travel for business so we can see our 2 year old son. We both carry iPads and iPhone with tethering.

    We tether the iPad to the iPhone hotspot and then you can mae Facetime calls from the iPad. It works pretty well actually. The quality is not like it is on Wifi, but it certainly isn’t a problem.

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  8. Your point about quality is important, but not the biggest one I think. You speak like there wouldn’t be any ok video calling alternatives out there at the moment. I think that point of taking FaceTime to 3G networks is precisely that it could compete with _existing_ good alternatives.

    Maybe it could make video calling really work. … You know, the way Apple has done with many things. So far FaceTime is as big of a success as AppleTV, i.e. not very big. Picture or sound quality hasn’t helped, so either it was lack of real mobile use, which you could get with 3G, or then time just wasn’t right yet.

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    1. Video calling works over 3G, it’s not a problem. It has been there at least since 2004. Even Skype video calls have been possible since 2009 when Fring added them to their app. _Video_ _calling_ _works_.

      Maybe it just is that video calls are a techno dream of 50′s, when you were anyway tied to your phone and sat next to it when speaking. Maybe need for video calls isn’t anymore there. Yes, it might sometimes be nice to see you loved ones, but I’m not sure if people would trade the freedom of mobile phones to possibility of seeing who ever you are talking with. Now you can walk around not having to look at the phone and maybe use hands free headset and do something else at the same time. With mobile video calling you would have to give all that away.

      With laptops and desktops you still are tied to a place, so they still fulfill that original deam. For those moments when you can sit down and place your phone or tablet on table, there often is WiFi or access to real computers.

      As I said, Apple might pull ”the Apple thing” with FaceTime and make it popular, but there isn’t as clear need for this as there has been with most of their success stories.

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  9. Stop posting ads!

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    1. You beat me to it, Rich. I just went through some comments and cleaned out the spammy ones. Thx!

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  10. Yes, it’s a great idea. I don’t care if it sucks. If Skype can do it, there is no reason Apple can’t. Once again, we can thank the telecomms for stifling innovation and forward progress in the name of the almighty “bottom dollar”.

    I will take shitty connectivity during the transition to 4G, I don’t care.

    I hate not being able to use FaceTime because I hate Skype and would rather use Apple’s built-in video conferencing solution.

    My experience in the past with FaceTime has been stellar compared to my time on Skype. (even when on wi-fi with both competing services.)

    The sooner the better!

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