AT&T changed its network policy Oct. 6 to permit VOIP iPhone applications-most notably Skype-that bypass AT&T's own voice service. Previously, the Skype Internet phone service for the iPhone was limited to Wi-Fi connectivity.
The decision does not enable the Google Voice service application for the iPhone, which AT&T told the Federal Communications Commission in August was a dispute strictly between Apple and Google. AT&T at the time did admit it blocked VOIP services such as Skype, but indicated it was re-evaluating the decision.
AT&T said it has informed Apple and the FCC of the decision. Under new FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, the agency has opened a number of inquiries involving the interoperability of devices and services on wireless networks. Genachowski has also proposed to expand and extend the agency's network neutrality principles to wireless networks, an idea the wireless carriers are vigorously opposing.
Genachowski immediately praised the AT&T change in network policy.
"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."
AT&T also pointed out that the carrier has offered a variety of other wireless devices that enable VOIP applications on 3G, 2G and Wi-Fi networks.
"iPhone is an innovative device that dramatically changed the game in wireless when it was introduced just two years ago," Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility & Consumer Markets, said in a statement on the AT&T site. "Today's decision was made after evaluating our customers' expectations and use of the device compared to dozens of others we offer."
Skype President Josh Silverman called AT&T's decision the right step. Two years ago, Skype filed a complaint with the FCC over wireless networks blocking VOIP calls. The complaint went nowhere until Genachowski took over at the FCC.
"We applaud today's announcement by AT&T to open up its 3G network to Internet calling applications such as Skype," Silverman said in a statement. "Since launching our iPhone application six months ago, consumers have downloaded and installed Skype on 10 percent of all iPhone and iPod touch devices sold. This clearly demonstrates that our customers are extremely interested in taking Skype conversations with them on the go on the iPhone."
Silverman warned, however, "The positive actions of one company are no substitute for a government policy that protects openness and benefits consumers, and we look forward to further innovations that will enable even more mobile Skype calling."