AT&T Knuckles Under on Wireless VoIP

October 6th, 2009 by · 1 Comment

The word is that AT&T has given in on network neutrality over its wireless networks, at least for VoIP.  As pretty much everyone knows by now, there was a clause in the iPhone contract which required VoIP calls to only work over Wi-Fi connections.  The public justification for the rule has been network congestion, while the private one has been one of competition.  However, in light of the unfavorable regulatory scrutiny it appears that AT&T (NYSE:T, news, filings) has decided that discretion is the better part of valor.  Or if you’re cynical, maybe not so much…

As Andy Abramson points out, VoIP over 3G isn’t exactly a panacea even over in Europe.  On AT&T’s 3G networks, which are already bursting at the seams with iPhone traffic, the threat to normal cellular calls from VoIP is probably rather diminished for now.  In addition, it will be a few quarters before wireless VoIP makes a real dent even under the rosiest scenarios, and then we will be starting the era of 4G for which AT&T would have no reasonable bandwidth argument to deny VoIP traffic.   So in reality they’re probably not giving up much.

But in the meantime, by giving in to network neutrality early, AT&T gets to compete against a VoIP product that is hampered by the limitations of an already saturated 3G network.  They may be able to paint it as an unreliable option that must always be backed up by normal cellular voice service, an image that they can carry into the 4G era.  And as a bonus, they get to remind the FCC periodically that VoIP is part of the data straining their networks and that network neutrality is an undue burden.   And video?  Let’s not even go there…

In other words, network neutrality proponents may want to be careful what they wish for.  Or maybe I’m just too cynical this evening.

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Categories: Government Regulations · VoIP · Wireless

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  • anon says:

    Rob, I think you cynicism is appropriate — be careful what they wish for. As soon as the Bell System ATTVZ duopoly decides to (1) charge by the byte transferred and (2) get selective about peering, the Free Ride is over. My wild guess is that the carriers will price data transfered in a manner that renders voip vastly more expensive than just buying a bundle of minutes. To the extent that google and and the other over-the-toppers think they won something here, my guess is that they just took the bait… Also, do google/facebook/skype et al run networks that the Bells would like to transit all day everyday for free…. to be sure.

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