AT&T flip-flops, allows VoIP apps on iPhone

AT&T Mobility has changed its stance, and is now going to allow VoIP applications for Apple's iPhone to run over its 3G network. The carrier said that it had informed both Apple and the FCC of its decision.

The change in policy means that users of VoIP applications on the iPhone, such as Skype, will no longer be relegated to using the device's WiFi connection for VoIP calling. It is also a significant turnaround for AT&T, which said earlier this year that allowing VoIP apps on the iPhone to run over its 3G network could cripple the network. Indeed, AT&T has openly discussed the strain iPhone usage in general has placed on its network.

Today's announcement involves only the iPhone. AT&T has long allowed VoIP apps to run on other devices.

AT&T's new stance adds yet another twist to a wireless market awash in network policy news. The FCC recently announced it will consider making net neutrality principles into stronger and more enforceable regulations. Further, the FCC recently investigated why Apple had reportedly blocked Google's Google Voice application from its App Store; Apple maintains that it has not rejected the application and that it continues to study it.

"As we've said previously, AT&T had no role in any decision by Apple to not accept the Google Voice application for inclusion in the Apple App Store," AT&T spokesman Michael Coe told FierceWireless. "It's our understanding that Google Voice is not a VoIP service. We've also said that any AT&T customer may access and use Google Voice on any web-enabled device operating on our network, including the iPhone."

Skype President Josh Silverman lauded AT&T's decision in a blog post. "It's the right step for AT&T, Apple, millions of mobile Skype users and the Internet itself," he said. "Nonetheless, the positive actions of one company are no substitute for a government policy that protects openness and benefits consumers. We're all looking forward to further developments that will let people use Skype on any device, on any network."

Interestingly, the move was noteworthy enough to generate a response from the FCC's own chairman, Julius Genachowski.

"When AT&T indicated, in response to the FCC's inquiry, that it would take another look at permitting VoIP on its 3G network I was encouraged," Genachowski said in a statement. "I commend AT&T's decision to open its network to VoIP. Opening wireless services to greater consumer choice will drive investment and innovation in the mobile marketplace."

For more:
- see this release
- see Skype's statement
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)

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