Computerworld - Apple's next-generation iOS will allow FaceTime video chats overcellular connections, Apple said Monday. Until now, FaceTime hasonly worked over Wi-Fi networks. When iOS 6 launches this Fall, having a cellular connection forFaceTime will be a welcome change for many users who don't haveready access to a Wi-Fi hotspot. But analysts question whethertoday's 3G networks could offer sufficient bandwidth to handle thelive video coupling, or if 4G LTE being rolled out by the majorcarriers will be affordable when data plans are used to supportFaceTime. The 4G LTE being installed by AT&T and Verizon Wireless (andexpected from Sprint this year) is about 10 times faster than theirolder 3G -- with average download speeds of more than 10Mbps.Meanwhile, the next iPhone is expected to support LTE whenintroduced later this year. |
Apple's FaceTime over cellular announcement "implies that 4G iscoming in the iPhone 5," said Ron Enderle, an analyst at EnderleGroup. Without LTE, a 3G connection with an iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S could befrustrating for users, since even Wi-Fi connections over FaceTimearen't always clear and sometimes don't have synchronous voice andvideo streams. Wi-Fi data rates over 802.11n max out at 450Mbps, according to Wi-Fi.org . Many more commonplace 802.11a or 802.11g Wi-Fi connections maxout at 54Mbps, still many times faster than the LTE beingintroduced in the U.S. Wi-Fi over 802.11b is rated at up to 11Mbps.
Even if the connection is fast enough, a cellular connection forFaceTime could be prohibitively expensive, as some users havediscovered when downloading video clips or movies. "I'm sure FaceTime will work over cellular, but the question is howwell?" said Phillip Redman, an analyst at Gartner. Costs are harderto predict, he noted, unless a user has an unlimited data plan,like the one that Sprint offers, he added. Having FaceTime over cellular "also doesn't mean that people willnever use Wi-Fi again," Redman said.
"I'd say the majority of usewill still be on Wi-Fi." Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said FaceTime overcellular will "probably work...especially with LTE, although notvery well with 2G or perhaps even 3G." Gold was more concerned about the expense of cellular video chats."With the carriers going to rationed data plans, what will heavyusers have when they get their bills at the end of the month?" Goldasked. "Video takes bandwidth, even if it is highly compressed, andbandwidth is not free." Apple hasn't defined how much bandwidth a typical video call willtake, so "there is no good way to know what it will cost users,"Gold added. FaceTime over cellular "certainly [won't work out] if it raisespeople's bills" with carriers, Gold said.
Stories of exorbitant data usage bills for downloading video over a cellular connection are growingcommonplace and AT&T and Verizon now offer tips and smartphonemonitoring tools to guard against exceeding monthly data limits.They also send warnings to users when limits are exceeded. Still, customers surprises could increase when FaceTime goescellular. One Computerworld reader who asked not to be named said she was surprised recentlyto get an $80 unexpected addition to her Verizon bill primarily fordownloading a video attachment from a relative sent via email onher new iPhone operating over 3G. The video was less than 10minutes long, she said, although she confessed she wasn't familiarwith the terms of her new data plan or how she should monitor it.
Computerworld illustrated the data usage problem with video over Verizon LTE in December by downloading an HD128-minute feature-length film to a Galaxy Nexus smartphone, whichtook up 3.7 GB of data. At the time, Verizon was charging $30 for4GB per month at the time, up from the normal $30 for 2GB. In addition to tools to monitor data usage, AT&T and Verizon alsohave some sage, if ironic, advice to avoid high data use overcellular: use Wi-Fi when possible. "You may want to use Wi-Fi whenstreaming video," Verizon said in a recent list of tips to itscustomers to help manage a data usage allowance.
It's advice that could matter for FaceTime-over-cellular as well.
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