AT&T caves on VOIP, will tethering follow soon?

October 7, 2009

From a theoretical perspective, today’s announcement is good news and establishes a level of network openness that should have been standard from the beginning. Realistically, however, it’s hard to image that letting Skype and Google Voice run roughshod over Ma Bell’s strained-to-the-point-of-buckling 3G network will improve service or reliability.

Quoting AT&T Mobility chief Ralph de la Capitulation Vega, Reuters reports that America’s second largest wireless carrier has agreed to allow the use of voice over internet protocol (VOIP) calling on its third generation (3G) network — a significant victory for open network advocates. Specific beneficiaries include Google Voice and long-time VOIP market leader Skype.

“Today’s decision was made after evaluating our customers’ expectations and use of the device compared to dozens of others we offer,” said de la Vega.

Previously, Skype had been limited to use when an iPhone was connected to the internet via a Wi-Fi connection, which severely limited its usefulness and appeal. Google Voice, which was rejected but not rejected by Apple’s App Store grannies, is also expected to appear on the iPhone, a product that brings its own ecosystem of add-ons and diehard users.

Of course, Apple will have to formally approve both the multi-network version of Skype and Google Voice. Nevertheless, with the FCC’s wishes in the matter clearly laid out, this is a slam dunk.

And, what of tethering?

With network neutrality the flavor of the day, it seems just a matter of time before Ma Bell allows tethering (wikipedia). Then again, de la Vega already promised it would allow tethering “soon,” though that slip of the tongue was made nearly a year ago.

Thereupon, will AT&T’s network be able bear the burden of all this newfound freedom? The mere idea of thousands if not millions of latté sipping, turtleneck wearing iPhone users abandoning their broadband internet access subscriptions in favor of “free” access via AT&T’s 3G network might just be enough to break the wireless carrier’s back…

What’s your take?

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