Concerns About FaceTime Over Cellular. Will You Max Out Your Data Limits?

We all remember about Apple’s big announcement at WWDC…. for iOS 6…

“FaceTime now works over cellular networks as well as Wi-Fi, so you can make and receive FaceTime calls wherever you happen to be. You can even make and receive FaceTime calls on your iPad using your phone number. That means you can use FaceTime wherever you are, on any device. And never miss another wink, smile, air kiss, or eye roll.”

What Apple forgot to mention is how much data FaceTime will gobble up in the process. What are carriers going to do about this?

Market Watch recently released a report that talks about the impact of FaceTime over cellular networks. According to the report, data consumption from FaceTime could be sizeable for regular users. With limited data plans, this could adversely affect subscribers, causing them to need to upgrade their plans. Data consumption over Wi-Fi with FaceTime is approximately 1.5 to 7.5 megabytes per minute. Using cellular data streaming on the 4G network eats up about 6 MB per minute, which could potentially use up a low-end subscriber’s entire allotment if they were to make one five-minute FaceTime call per day.

AT&T started offering unlimited data plans way before the iPhone and other smart phones became hugely popular. There are still a lot of people who are grandfathered into an old contract that allows them to continue to pay for unlimited data, even though the company no longer offers that plan to new users. The downside is that a user’s bandwidth is throttled after they exceed preset data levels.

Currently, Verizon offers an unlimited data plan for a premium price. However, the company’s contract explicitly states that Verizon has the right to change that whenever they want. In other words, there is no such thing as a Grandfather Clause in Verizon’s unlimited data network. According to the Market Watch report, Verizon is, in fact, planning on moving to “a new pricing regime that focuses on subscribers’ data usage and that will raise prices for many users.”

If Verizon does drop their unlimited plan, it will leave Sprint Nextel as the only carrier to still offer a smorgasbord of data to its subscribers. If FaceTime users start eating up too much data, Sprint may decide to follow suit.

There may not even be anything to worry about here. How many people have you seen using FaceTime in a coffee shop? Does anyone in your family call you on FaceTime from a Mac or their iPad? Maybe a couple of times for fun, but most people still call each other without video. Its not like people are out there, wishing they could use FaceTime to call their buddy on Friday night while they are at a local bar.

FaceTime is more of a novelty. It is a great way to see how the grandkids are growing or talk to a long-distance boyfriend. Those types of conversations are not likely to take place on a street corner. They are probably going to happen at home, where Wi-Fi is connecting the call.

Now, teens are another story. Those young ‘ens will probably FaceTime every single call they can. They will be video chatting with their friends in study hall, or setting up FaceTime with friends who are sitting at the same lunch table. Teens are the ones we have to watch out for. Will there be parental controls in place for restricting access to FaceTime over cellular networks? Will you teach your children proper FaceTime education? You’d better, or you may see your cellular bill triple when iOS 6 comes out.

About Lory: Writer of all things app related, traveler of the space-time continuum, baker of really great cookies. Follow me @appaholik