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AT&T may charge fanbois for FaceTime vid chat, hints iOS 6

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Early adopters playing with iOS 6 fear users will have to beg AT&T to let them make FaceTime video calls over the cellular network.

An alert box, shown over at MacRumours, pops up and urges fanbois to have a word with the telco if they attempt to make a FaceTime call and Wi-Fi isn't available.

The discovery sparked rumours that AT&T plans to charge for Apple's video-calling service. The network operator hasn't responded helpfully and Apple is as taciturn as ever, so punters will just have to wait until the official launch of iOS 6, the iPad and iPhone operating system.

AT&T already demands a fee for tethering (sharing a phone's mobile internet connection with other devices over Wi-Fi) so the concept of flat-rate data charing is already broken. However, US blogopundits have spilled their cinnamon dolce lattes in shock at the idea that AT&T may bill customers for the privilege of making video calls.

They could use Skype, of course, which happily supports video calling over mobile networks, but Skype is owned by Microsoft and that will be enough to prevent most Apple users from considering it.

FaceTime is baked into iOS, although it hasn't led to the explosion in video calling predicted by the late Apple founder Steve Jobs when it was launched. The killer application for Skype video seems to be, from our limited experience, the ability to link teenage bedrooms together in ad hoc connections lasting days, and enabling language students to connect with locals for cheap lessons, both of which depend on the free nature of the call to be economical.

Most phone calls don’t need or want video. In fact communication is increasingly eschewing audio too, so one wonders why AT&T would insist on charging for FaceTime.

Our guess, and it's little more than that, is that AT&T hasn't yet decided whether the iOS feature will be a premium service, but has anyway asked Apple to put hooks into the OS to allow it to happen. FaceTime is blocked in certain counties, where telecommunication companies have to abide by communication interception laws that Apple refuses to obey, so blocking by network is technically trivial.

The newly found on-screen box suggests the user should contact AT&T, and we'd not be surprised to see that disappear before the final release of iOS 6, but it serves as a useful reminder that it's AT&T that pays for most of the iPhones in America, so it's AT&T that Apple has to respond to first. ®

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