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AT&T lets 3G Sling TV onto iPhone

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Updated AT&T has reversed an earlier stand, allowing Sling Media's player for the iPhone touch to stream live or recorded television over 3G.

As we reported last spring, AT&T originally restricted SlingPlayer Mobile to Wi-Fi connections - even though it allowed 3G streaming rights for Major League Baseball's MLB.com At Bat app.

At that time, Cnet quoted Sling Media's mobile product manager, Dave Eyler, as saying that their player was "under the bit rate that Apple has set for these kinds of applications," adding that "we are below some of the apps that have already been approved for the App Store."

AT&T, however, apparently feared that the popularity of SlingPlayer Mobile would further choke its already-beleaguered 3G network, low bit rate or not.

But now Big Phone has changed its tune - and they're claiming that the reason for their new attitude towards Sling Media is that the app has been rejiggered to be less bandwidth-hungry.

"The key for us is Sling Media was willing to work with us to revise the app to make it more bandwidth sensitive," said Ralph de la Vega, AT&T's Mobility and Consumer chieftan said in a canned statement. "They made important changes to more efficiently use 3G network bandwidth and conserve wireless spectrum so that we were able to support the app on our 3G mobile broadband network."

Sling Media did not respond to our question as to whether the revised SlingPlayer Mobile will, indeed, differ in any substantive way from the previously disallowed version when it soon appears in Apple's App Store*. But AT&T claims that it has been testing "a revised and optimized version" of the app since December.

In his contribution to de la Vega's statement, Sling Media's general manager John Gilmore shied away from direct comment on how their app had been made more "bandwidth sensitive," saying only: "We're delighted with AT&T's decision to approve the SlingPlayer Mobile app on their 3G network."

It's not that we doubt the complete and total veracity of AT&T's statement, but we can't help but think that there may be more than bandwidth sensitivity behind AT&T's new-found 3G largess. The company has been under fire from many critics - not the least of which being the Federal Communications Commission and a US Senate panel - on a variety of fronts, from selective influence over iPhone Apps to its arguments against net neutrality to handset-exclusivity deals.

In addition, Big Phone has been feverishly sprucing up its sagging network infrastructure. In its most recent financial disclosure, for example, it reported that it had spent $17.3bn on capital expenditures in 2009 and that it was planning to increase its wireless-network spending by $2bn in 2010.

Perhaps the timing of today's announcement was based not only on SlingPlayer Mobile's increased bandwidth sensitivity, but also by AT&T's need to improve its image of heavy-handedness, along with their belief that recent and planned network improvements can now handle the load of untold numbers of Slingers slinging TV to their iPhones over Big Phone's 3G network. ®

* Updated

After the publication of this story, a Sling Media spokesperson emailed The Reg to tell us that there had only been "some very minor additions to the application over the one we submitted last spring," and that although "Apple has indicated that they will review the app quickly," an approval date for the update had not yet been set.

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