Blog Post

Is FaceTime over 3G really a good idea?

Apple(s aapl) 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.

25 Responses to “Is FaceTime over 3G really a good idea?”

  1. FaceTime on 3G does sounds good back then when there was unlimited Internet. Forget that I wouldn’t FaceTime now it’s gonna cost a bundle and prices of everything is going up

  2. OT Road

    I am grandfathered on ATT’s former unlimited international 3g plan. I do VOIP Over 3g outside the US, but not inside it. You can make it work, but you need to think about your calls. First, you want to make sure that you are relatively stationary. My worst experience is in trains, followed by cars. Second, I give some thought (to the extent I can predict it) to network load and signal quality. Third, I always run an echo test before making the call. Fourth, I close out apps. Apple says that this shouldn’t matter, but I watch a change in my available memory and the calls go better. Fifth, I don’t use this approach for important business calls where a bad call will hurt my reputation. I will make business calls with established clients, particularly ones who know how expensive roaming can be. I would never do VOIP to save a few cents on a domestic call. I think Apple is thinking about LTE with this feature.

  3. I regularly use Face Time on my iPad3 with wifi provided by the iPhone4 on Bell. Works consistently great for us with 3 bars of signal.

  4. jeburneon

    I have a jailbroken iphone with facetime over 3g working and it works flawlessly, its been six months and i cant complain. Don’t expect calls not to drop if you are on the move, may be in a car, but it’s the same for voice calls when signal drops

  5. André van Haren

    I used factime on 3G when I had it jailbroken and it worked great. No problems at all and I was always wondering why Apple didn’t allow it.

  6. Kelly Amsbry

    Apple’s biggest concern here is about ensuring a quality experience for their customers. People are willing to suffer lower resolution in mobile video calling as long as the calls are consistent and don’t drop frequently. Video calling is not for everyone, all the time but for those who use it, having more access to on mobile devices means using it more.

  7. Alex Hazel

    One thing people forget to realize is that when you have the power of video conferencing on 3G, you are able to circumvent the restrictions of a firewall. (whether that firewall is at work, a hospital, a public area, or an airport)

    What I have found from my tests is that even though you have access to a wi-fi network, most of the public networks block the ports that video conferencing services use to communicate to keep bandwidth usage on their network within a manageable level.

    With 3G FaceTime, you can have a video call with anyone that has an iPhone or iPad from anywhere in the world that has sufficient cell coverage.

    It’s a game changer.

  8. Alex Hazel

    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!

  9. 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.

    • 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.

  10. Jason

    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.

  11. Droidfan

    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.

  12. 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?

  13. 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?

  14. Mcbeese

    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.

  15. Jeff Kibuule

    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.