AT&T is changing its mind and now says iPhone VoIP apps will be able to run on its 3G wireless network.
Previously, Internet phone apps like Skype and the new Vonage app were forced to operate on wi-fi hotspots, which limits their utility.
This is good news for consumers, but could add extra strain on AT&T’s already-taxed network. This could mean even more dropped or interrupted VoIP calls than you’re used to with AT&T’s normal calls.
The move comes as the Federal Communications Commission has scrutinized how Apple and AT&T handle VoIP apps for the iPhone — specifically, Apple’s continued rejection of Google’s Google Voice app. And as the FCC pushes for “net neutrality,” which prevents carriers from blocking Internet communications, even on wireless networks.
Will this open the doors for a Google Voice app? Not necessarily.
Apple’s complaint with the app wasn’t that it tried to do VoIP, but that it “appears to alter the iPhone’s distinctive user experience by replacing the iPhone’s core mobile telephone functionality and Apple user interface with its own user interface for telephone calls, text messaging and voicemail.”
However, we imagine that’s something Apple will work out with Google, and now Google Voice could be allowed onto the iPhone as a VoIP app.
Meanwhile, in a statement, Skype President Josh Silverman said:
“Since launching our iPhone application six months ago, consumers have downloaded and installed Skype on 10% of all iPhone and iPod touch devices sold. This clearly demonstrates that our customers are extremely interested in taking Skype conversations with them on the go on the iPhone.”
The fear among carriers is that VoIP apps will reduce consumers’ dependence on the telcos for voice service. This is likely one reason AT&T initially blocked them, as well as concerns about network usage. But minimum contract requirements (and other inconveniences) will likely mimimize any damage.