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

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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.

29 Responses to “AT&T to Allow VoIP Calls Over 3G Network; Skype Fans Rejoice”

  1. I have a couple of concerns regarding the proliferation of Skype.

    Firstly (and most importantly) CallerID. I simply won’t accept a call where the CallerID is not presented. As a number of friends start to use Skype more and more, the number of calls presenting with a CLI of is increasing. Not a good thing. This could be remedied by ‘spoofing’ the CallerID by Skype (subject to knowing and validating originator’s number) or assigning a Skype VOIP number to each user which is routed with the call (especially when it finally emerges from VOIP land to POTS world).

    Secondly, I would prefer, where a call is initiating on Skype’s network that it would be answered by a Skype client on the iPhone (kinda gets around the above issue). That way I could identify callers by their Skype username and include their details in my contacts/address book. Ability to background anyone?

    Finally – a unified Contacts Manager is what is really the next step. And I suspect that Apple’s sweetheart deal with the operators is going to potentially blindside them to the impact of this. I love the SMS (Messages) app on the iPhone. But why doesn’t a contact view have a page to review ALL forms of contact in order (irrespective of type). By this I mean a log of Calls (In/Out), SMS/MMS (sent/received), Emails (sent/received), IMs (in the same fashion as SMS). All with a common ‘contact’ API that allows any iPhone app to register a Contact Record and link to a contact. For that matter why can’t I link a task to a contact? Or a Note? Or even a set of photos?

    I’ve been more than tempted to write a Mac OS app which scans the (simple) sqlite db’s in the iPhone backup bundles and appends call logs, sms logs and email snippets to the bottom of the contact’s notes fields.

    Why can’t I bring up a contact and see when I last phoned/emailed them? Or them me..

    Enough of that. I love my iPhone. But it could be so much more.

    Gerard Byrne

  2. Great!!!! Congrates for all the iPhone consumers.I think it would be better to use the VoIP telephony facility using apple’s iPhone. Now it would be tought to compete for the PSTN VoIP providers with this.
    Thanks to AT & T.

  3. This is great news, kudos to AT&T for allowing something which should have been okay one day one. Competition is a good thing. Now if AT&T would allow the Sling Player app on the iPhone to work over the network.

  4. Varun Aggarwal

    Why is that when a company decides something which is favorable to the consumers (and contrary to our expectations), we put our cynic hat on and say things like ‘I bet today’s decision was promoted by the tough stance taken by the FCC.’ Maybe that is true but at least commend their stance – they stand to loose out a lot due to this for our gain. I bet AT&T would be looking at this blog post and saying – “It’s a cynical world we are living in. If we do things right we don’t get applauded and if we do things wrong we are criticized!”

    Om –> Give credit where it is deserved.


    • Allowing VoIP, and general “openness” was going to be a big competitive advantage of all Android phones, so Android loses some advantage vs.iPhones.

      Though I agree with you. I think that Google will be happy. Their disruptive introduction of Android is opening up the whole market, so their apps will have more freedom on iPhones, as well as Android phones. That just means more advertising revenues for them.

      Apple forced carriers to be more open than they had been. Now Android is forcing Apple to be more open then they had been. The ratchet effect of competition is working in the right direction.

      Consumers: a big win for competition. I love to watch ATT/Apple square off against all comers. Both sides must keep getting better, or lose ground. These are awesome times.

  5. Om, QOS over 3G via iPhone apps doesn’t have to suck, at least not all the time ;) If the signal is decent, there is really no reason why the call experience could not be on par or potentially even better than cellular calls. I have an iPhone SMB communications project underway that should help to prove this out.

    • Yuvamani

      My friend tried a skype 3g call on a old htc winmo phone (the tilt) on ATT 3g (funny how WinMo is more open) . Anyway the quality sucked big time. And from the looks of it the processor matters quite a bit for a low bandwidth connection like 3G.

      The iPhone 3GS has a nice processor, so we may have better luck now, but then the quality of data on the At&T network has only degraded so we may not be so lucky.

  6. “AT&T says it will soon allow Apple’s iPhone to make VoIP telephony calls over its 3G network.”

    Whoa. Whoa!

    Om, I thought you said AT&T had nothing to do with Google Voice being rejected?

    • Anonymous

      Agreed. I am pretty impressed by how quickly this has come to pass. Now if we could get some equal amount of competition into the broadband market, things would be cool.

    • Libran Lover

      NO! This is just proof that the mere threat of net neutrality regulation can produce SOME result. Imagine how much more might happen if neutrality rules were actually on the books & there was real competition!