AT&T to Allow VoIP Calls Over 3G Network; Skype Fans Rejoice

iphoneUpdated with FCC Statement: AT&T (s T) says it will soon allow Apple’s iPhone to make VoIP telephony calls over its 3G network. Up until now, the VoIP apps used the Wi-Fi networks and were prevented from using the 3G connection. Skype and other VoIP providers had complained loudly about AT&T’s clampdown. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had started investigating AT&T and Apple’s business practices.

Ma Bell today said that it has “informed Apple Inc. and the FCC of its decision.” I bet today’s decision was promoted by the tough stance taken by the FCC. And I bet Google doesn’t like this development one bit. AT&T’s capitulation shows that the carriers are losing much of their control over the consumer wireless experience. A big reason for that? Competition in the wireless markets.

In late summer, AT&T said it was taking a fresh look at VoIP capabilities on iPhone for use on AT&T’s 3G network, consistent with its regular review of device features and capabilities to ensure attractive options for consumers.

“iPhone is an innovative device that dramatically changed the game in wireless when it was introduced just two years ago,” said Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO, AT&T Mobility & Consumer Markets. “Today’s decision was made after evaluating our customers’ expectations and use of the device compared to dozens of others we offer.” (from AT&T Press release)

On the Skype blog, Skype CEO Josh Silverman writes:

Since launching our iPhone application six months ago, people have downloaded and installed Skype on 10% of all iPhone and iPod touch devices sold – making it clear that people are extremely interested in taking Skype conversations with them on the go.

All of us at Skype applaud today’s announcement by AT&T (in an FCC filing to be published shortly) that it’ll open up its 3G network to Internet calling applications such as Skype. It’s the right step for AT&T, Apple, millions of mobile Skype users and the Internet itself.

Nonetheless, the positive actions of one company are no substitute for a government policy that protects openness and benefits consumers. We’re all looking forward to further developments that will let people use Skype on any device, on any network.

Let’s just hope more carriers follow in AT&T’s footsteps and allow voice calls over 3G. I think the big issue would be the quality. Given the fragile nature of AT&T’s 3G network, I’m pretty sure we are going to get poor-to-marginally-OK sound quality over 3G. Just like the calls over AT&T’s cellular network. :-)

Update: FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski responds to AT&T’s announcement:

When AT&T indicated, in response to the FCC’s inquiry, that it would take another look at permitting VoIP on its 3G network I was encouraged. I commend AT&T’s decision to open its network to VoIP. Opening wireless services to greater consumer choice will drive investment and innovation in the mobile marketplace.