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iPhone 4: Is 3 the perfect partner for FaceTime?

iPhone 4: Is 3 the perfect partner for FaceTime?

FaceTime is simultaneously the most exciting and most infuriating feature of the iPhone 4. Exciting because it has the potential to perhaps turn video chat from a niche concern and give it the Apple popularity treatment, a la mobile apps. Infuriating because Apple appears to think it’s invented video chat with the iPhone 4, plus the fact it’ll be limited to said phone and will only work on Wi-Fi.

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But beyond these basics, the potential for a 3G version of FaceTime has been boosted thanks to 3's deal with Apple to sell the iPhone 4. Why? Because of the network’s overwhelming commitment to next-gen cellular access, coupled with the fact that it was the first UK network to promise proper video calling. This could truly be a partnership worth watching and one that could set an example for other networks wanting to make the most of FaceTime when it inevitably makes the shift from Wi-Fi only to 3G as well.

3's Skypephone series set the tone for readily available, free video calls over 3G when it was first announced back in 2007. Since then there have been issues with the 3G-only ability to make calls, but with 3 now staking a claim for ‘100 per cent’ 3G coverage, it’ll clearly be hoping that Apple takes note of its previous in this area.

Apple will not want to risk launching FaceTime for 3G until the networks are up-to-speed. Steve Jobs was very keen to stress during his World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) keynote that the reason it was a Wi-Fi only service was down to the networks and not Apple. But surely 3 is the best placed of these to deliver and for Apple to trial the service on. Its Skype series and line up of INQ phones give a clear indication that it has the edge over some of the bigger players.

iphone 4 facing

There are, of course, issues to be ironed out. Any video calling over 3G will be subject to a fair usage policy. And with O2 setting out its stall with a measly 500MB a month, 3 would need to up its offering considerably in order to stop punters paying through the nose for video calling and web access.

It may well be that FaceTime comes as a bolt-on, with the extra fees being split by Apple and the networks. This would mimic the basic contract model which already exists. However, this may not fit well into 3's philosophy of offering cheap deals. We’ll know more later today when the carrier's deals for the iPhone 4 are announced as to whether it’s been able to work out better packages than its rivals.

While FaceTime does remain something of an Apple-hyped novelty, it’s pleasing to know that networks with a history of success in video calling are onboard. Apple will be keen to get this rolled out across 3G as soon as possible in order to avoid bad press and 3 is evidently the best network on these shores to help them realise that goal. Fingers crossed the wait won’t be too long.

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