Reversing its earlier position, AT&T Inc. said Tuesday it will now let iPhone customers use Internet phone services such as Skype and similar services on its third-generation network.
The move eliminates a controversial ban the U.S. telecom giant had in place blocking Apple Inc. iPhone users from placing phone calls using Skype (News - Alert) and other Internet phone services on its network. The decision now opens the door for iPhone users to benefit from competitive efforts offering less expensive international calls and text messaging, officials said.
The network currently permits iPhone use of Skype, but only through Wi-Fi.
AT&T (News - Alert) reportedly told the Federal Communications Commission in August that didn’t allow voice-over-Internet calling on the iPhone over its 3G network to guard against losing revenue to the services, Bloomberg (News - Alert) reported. The company late summer, AT&T said it was taking a “fresh look” at VoIP capabilities on iPhone for use on its 3G network. The move was consistent with its regular review of device features and capabilities to ensure attractive options for consumers, the company said in a statement.
Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO, AT&T mobility and consumer markets said the decision was made after the company evaluated customers’ expectations and use of the device compared to dozens of others the firm offers.
Officials from Apple and Skype on Tuesday lauded AT&Ts decision.
“We are very happy that AT&T is now supporting VoIP applications,” Apple spokeswoman Natalie Kerris told Reuters (News - Alert). “We will be amending our developer agreements to get VoIP apps on the App Store and in customers’ hands as soon as possible.”
Josh Silverman, president of Skype, said AT&T’s decision demonstrates that its customers are interested in taking Skype conversations with them on the go. Since the iPhone app launched six months ago, consumers have downloaded and installed Skype on 10 percent of all iPhone and iPod touch devices sold, he said.
“We applaud [the] announcement by AT&T to open up its 3G network to Internet calling applications such as Skype,” Silverman said in a statement. “It is the right step for AT&T, Apple, millions of mobile Skypers and the Internet itself. Nonetheless, the positive actions of one company are no substitute for a government policy that protects openness and benefits consumers and we look forward to further innovations that will enable even more mobile Skype calling.”
Skype, which has more than 480 million users, is being sold by San Jose, Calif. -based EBay.
AT&T’s ban drew fire after the company rejected Google (News - Alert) Inc.’s Google Voice software- a service that lets users read message transcripts and read SMS messages sent to Google accounts - from being offered on the iPhone App Store. An advocacy group called Free Press had asked the Federal Communications Commission to investigate AT&T’s and Apple’s use of Skype.
Meanwhile, a probe by the U.S. Department of Justice into how telecom companies forge exclusive deals for popular handsets continues. The justice department in July began investigating how large national telecom companies, such as AT&T and Verizon Communications Inc., form exclusive agreements for popular handsets. The trend raised concerns that companies could be abusing their power.
Apple has partnered with AT&T for rights to its iPhone. AT&T is in its second year of an exclusive deal to sell the popular device.
Amy Tierney is a Web editor for TMCnet, covering unified communications, telepresence, IP communications industry trends and mobile technologies. To read more of Amy's articles, please visit her columnist page.
Edited by Amy Tierney