AT&T CEO: It's 'too early' to say on charging for FaceTime over cellular

AT&T (NYSE:T) CEO Randall Stephenson said it is too soon to say whether the company will charge customers for using Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) FaceTime video calling feature over cellular connections.

The AT&T chief did not confirm to deny rumors swirling that the carrier will do so when the feature is enabled on iPhones and iPads with the release of Apple's iOS 6 software. "I've heard the same rumor," he said at the Fortune Brainstorm tech conference. Right now, he said AT&T is working with Apple to get the technology stabilized, according to TechCrunch, so "it's too early to talk about pricing."

The blog 9to5Mac posted an error message that appeared using iOS 6 beta 3 software that asks users to contact AT&T to enable FaceTime over cellular, which could be an indication that AT&T plans to charge for the service. Up until now all FaceTime calls have been made over Wi-Fi connections and are free.

AT&T possibly charging for FaceTime over cellular does have some precedent: The carrier charges an extra fee for iPhone tethering.

The question of whether AT&T will charge for FaceTime over cellular in part seems to hinge on how much of a stress such a service will put on AT&T's macro network. According to AT&T's data usage calculator, 10 minutes of video streaming per day equates to 0.59 GB of data per month. However, Stephenson expressed confidence in AT&T's network, saying that, "I feel as good about our network today as I have in five years."

Still, that did not stop Stephenson from continuing to call for federal regulators to free up more spectrum, especially from companies that are holding spectrum but not deploying it. He reiterated that AT&T's mobile data traffic has increased 20,000 percent in the last five years. "Our current planning assumption is that that continues for four years, five years," he said, according to Fortune.

Stephenson also used the conference to talk about the company's network performance, spectrum and data pricing, issues he has touched on in similar forums in recent months. For example, he reiterated his support for so-called "toll-free" data plans, in which application developers and over-the-top players would pay for their users' data usage directly or via a revenue sharing model with AT&T. Stephenson has said AT&T has already been approached about such plans. (Click here for a story about that.)

For more:
- see this Fortune article
- see this TechCrunch article

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