Jordan Golson for MacRumors:

AT&T announced today that it is planning to allow any customer “with an LTE device” on a “tiered data plan” to use iOS 6’s FaceTime over Cellular feature. Previously, only customers with a Mobile Share plan could use the feature.

Either you believe AT&T that the delay in rolling this out to more (but not all) customers was the result of engineering challenges — or — you look at the history of the company and realize they’re likely only doing this because the government immediately started looking it as a net neutrality violation.

Strange how Verizon was on board with FaceTime over cellular (and not just LTE either) from day one without these engineering challenges. Maybe AT&T would do better to just say that Verizon has the far superior network?

Jeff Benjamin:

I can confirm that the Verizon iPhone 5 is indeed GSM unlocked. Even though I bought an iPhone 5 from Verizon under contract, I was able to cut down my AT&T Micro SIM, and use it in my Verizon iPhone 5 to pick up an AT&T signal. By doing so, I was able to hop onto AT&T’s HPSA+ network, or “4G” as they so ridiculously name it.

Interesting — I assume this is related to the international roaming all iPhone 5s support (few countries use CDMA for 3G, so roaming would be on GSM).

My main problem with the overly-long political-speak from AT&T regarding FaceTime over cellular is that it’s bullshit. Bob Quinn:

We are broadening our customers’ ability to use the preloaded version of FaceTime but limiting it in this manner to our newly developed AT&T Mobile Share data plans out of an overriding concern for the impact this expansion may have on our network and the overall customer experience. 

Come on, we all know that’s not really why they’re doing it. They’re doing it in an effort to try to get everyone to switch over to their “newly developed” (do you really have to develop a plan?) data plans. Plans which will undoubtedly make AT&T more money.

The network itself isn’t any different — it’s still the same old shitty AT&T network you’re used to. This is a stick thinly disguised as a carrot.

I have no idea how Apple allowed AT&T to get the leverage to do this. You know they can’t be happy about it. I suspect any LTE-enabled iPhone will have been pre-negotiated not to have any such restriction (though I also wonder if users will have to upgrade to the “newly developed” AT&T Mobile Share bullshit).

Think of it this way: If Apple were to release FaceTime as a stand-alone app, AT&T would not be able to restrict it.

Can you imagine any AT&T customer reading this letter and being happy that this is their carrier? Check the comment section of the post for your answer. 

Seth Weintraub:

We just heard that Facetime over 3G and 4G would only be available on AT&T for those who choose to go with its new “Mobile Share” plans. If you have an individual plan or family plan, you will not be able to purchase or use FaceTime over 3G/4G at any price.

Shocker. But I wonder how Apple feels about this? My guess is that they’re not too happy. I imagine this would have led to one of those Steve Jobs’ mad-as-hell phone calls in the past…

As Weintraub concludes:

Yes, it is probably time to leave AT&T.

Mark Gurman:

However, in the next two years, AT&T plans to completely rid its stores of computers and counters, moving completely over to the iPad with a feature-complete version of OPUS. 

I suspect AT&T employees trying to convince customers to look at other options beside the iPhone may have a harder time doing so with an iPad in their hands.

Zach Epstein:

Even when customers come into stores specifically looking for the iPhone 4S or iPhone 4, staffers have been instructed to make an effort to show people Android and Windows Phone devices as well, so they can “make an informed decision.” In addition, AT&T retail staff in at least some locations are no longer permitted to obtain iPhones as their company-owned devices, and must instead choose an Android smartphone or a Windows Phone.

Apple’s single biggest competitive advantage in the space: Apple Stores. I’m fairly certain no one there is trying to shove Android and Windows Phone phones in peoples’ faces.

Meanwhile in the update, AT&T gives a non-denial which John Gruber swiftly rips apart.

Anthony Ha relaying AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson on stage at Fortune Brainstorm today talking about this nonsense:

“I’ve heard the same rumor,” he said, insisting that for now, AT&T is focused on working with Apple to get the technology stabilized, so “it’s too early to talk about pricing.”

Too early? It’s at most three months before this is a reality, as that’s when iOS 6 will likely be available. 

What he’s really saying is this: we’re trying as hard as possible to figure out a way to fuck our customers over as smoothly as possible. 

The correct answer would be: the feature uses data. If you’re already paying for data, you’re paying for the feature. 

AT&T has updated their international travel data plans (following Verizon doing the same thing). On the surface, it’s a good move, the new packages are certainly a better bang-for-the-buck. But let’s be real: they’re still a colossal rip-off. 

120MB of data from $30 a month? 800MB for $120 a month? They’re basically begging anyone who travels internationally to unlock their phones.

Like SMS, this insanely profitable dream is eventually going to collapse on the carriers. They could be less greedy and offer international data plans at a still-healthy markup (call it a convenience fee) and everyone would be happy. Instead, they’re fleecing customers.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson:

“You lie awake at night worrying about what is that which will disrupt your business model. Apple iMessage is a classic example. If you’re using iMessage, you’re not using one of our messaging services, right? That’s disruptive to our messaging revenue stream.”

Here’s an idea, instead of laying awake at night waiting for someone to disrupt your business, why not try actually innovating? What a losing mindset.

SMS has been a colossal rip-off forever. That carriers knew this. They knew such a scam couldn’t last forever. Yet they did nothing, sealing their fate.

This also proves that Apple was smart not to tell the carriers about iMessage before they launched it. They would have bitched and moaned and tried to kill it before it ever saw the light of day.

Apple’s stock took a dip today back below $600 a share. Some are citing concern that carriers will cut the subsidies they pay Apple for the iPhone as the reason for the drop.

There hasn’t been much in terms of tangible evidence that this is even a possibility, but the writing does seem to be slowly appearing on the wall. The carriers are all still extremely profitable and they do very well selling the iPhone, but they do better on a per-device basis selling other phones because of the subsidy they must pay Apple. 

Because the iPhone is the most popular single device across the carriers, they’re all seeing certain numbers slip as a result. The question becomes do the three U.S. carriers with the iPhone (Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint) have enough leverage to push back and make Apple take a lower cut? 

I don’t know, but I do know the leverage they will try to use: Android.

But the fact that Apple has a fourth carrier, T-Mobile, chomping at the bit to pay them the same subsidy, doesn’t speak well for this strategy. Collectively, they all still need the iPhone more than Apple needs any one of them. So unless they team up (collusion?) to put Apple in a position with no carriers willing to pay them what they want, I just don’t see things changing.

Sadly, I still think the carriers will keep on screwing with customers (rate hike here, rate change there) before they screw with Apple.

Just imagine if the product hadn’t been such a massive letdown for everyone.

Snark aside, it is sort of interesting that Apple didn’t issue a release touting any actual numbers. They tend to do that when they have something to crow about. Instead we just get Tim Cook saying it was a “record weekend” when talking about the stock dividend/buyback this morning. 

That’s almost an Amazon-like move.

Update: Boom.

Marco Arment:

I can confirm: my AT&T iPhone shows “4G” now, and I just benchmarked the connnection at a blazing 0.63 Mbps down and 0.07 Mbps up.

Yeah, that is total bullshit. AT&T has been doing this on Android phones for months, but Apple had been keeping it real — 3G label only. Now it looks like Apple caved and let AT&T call their really shitty 3G service “4G” in iOS 5.1.

I am disappoint. Total crap.

Two things:

1) The LTE data rates are in-line with the 3G rates. This is a very pleasant surprise. Still commitment-free. No contract required.

2) Of course Verizon is including the hotspot functionality with their plans while AT&T isn’t. AT&T seems to be doing everything in their power to ensure you don’t buy service from them. That’s one way to fix a crap network: drive people away.