Verizon May Restrict FaceTime to Tiered Data Plans

Verizon May Restrict FaceTime to Tiered Data Plans

Verizon may limit FaceTime to tiered data plans, in an attempt to manage traffic on its network at the risk of displeasing the iPhone maker.

The Basking Ridge, N.J.-based carrier is making this move to stem the flood of video traffic on its network, according to 9to5Mac, arguing users with limited bandwidth won’t spend as much of it on the video chat service. The new FaceTime will be bundled in Apple’s upcoming iOS 5 platform, set to roll out later this year.

Verizon recently switched over to tiered data plans for new subscribers, but many of its users are still on unlimited plans until their contracts expire.

Apple and Verizon are still in negotiations over bringing FaceTime 3G to end users, according to sources. Currently, Verizon is testing FaceTime over 3G in many regions with heavy iPhone usage, and has determined quality is fair to good for the service. Apple has also tweaked the FaceTime backend on iOS 5 to provide a better quality video call overall.

Despite quality assurance, negotiations are still ongoing over the unlimited vs. tiered data plan issue. Apple wants its feature to work for all iPhone customers, regardless of their subscription plan, to keep a consistent iOS experience across carriers. However, allowing the feature on both unlimited and tiered data users may degrade overall video quality.

Verizon therefore frames its attempt to limit the feature as a move to ensure quality. Limiting FaceTime to tiered data plans may limit usage over 3G, leaving open more bandwidth for higher quality 3G calls. Offering an iOS premium feature on tiered data may also shift more subscribers to tiered data contracts.

The impasse may point to increasing complications between carriers and phone makers, especially as mobile operators move towards tiered data overall. Sprint remains the only carrier with true unlimited data plans; other major carriers either throttle usage after a certain quota or have shifted to tiered plans altogether, in attempts to manage heavier data traffic on increasingly strained networks.

As platform makers like Apple, Google, HP and Research In Motion refine and offer increasingly robust features for smartphones, such as video chat, media streaming or cloud computing, they may conflict further with carriers’ aims to manage traffic. This balkanization may not please consumers, who now buy into a platform ecosystem and experience as much as a device.

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