AT&T Will Begin Enabling Pre-Loaded Video Chat Apps, Like Hangouts, For Those On Any Data Plan Later This Year

As AT&T comes under the gun for blocking Google’s new video chat app Hangouts on its cellular network, the company is today hoping to put a better spin on the news by offering a new statement detailing its changing position on support for pre-loaded video chat apps. During the second half of 2013, AT&T says it will begin to enable pre-loaded video chat applications over cellular for all its customers, regardless of the customer’s data plan.

This is a change from the carrier’s current position, which requires that customers pay for AT&T’s Mobile Share or Tiered plans, or soon, unlimited subscriptions (with LTE devices), in order to use pre-loaded video chat apps, like Apple’s FaceTime, for example, or those from Samsung and BlackBerry.

Here’s the revised statement, sent to us this afternoon by AT&T communications, as an update to an earlier inquiry on the block:

“For video chat apps that come pre-loaded on devices, we currently give all OS and device makers the ability for those apps to work over cellular for our customers who are on Mobile Share or Tiered plans. Apple, Samsung and Blackberry have chosen to enable this for their pre-loaded video chat apps. And by mid-June, we’ll have enabled those apps over cellular for our unlimited plan customers who have LTE devices from those three manufacturers.

“Throughout the second half of this year, we plan to enable pre-loaded video chat apps over cellular for all our customers, regardless of data plan or device; that work is expected to be complete by yearend.

“Today, all of our customers can use any mobile video chat app that they download from the Internet, such as Skype.”

From the sounds of it, that means Google won’t have to first “enable” (ask for permission?) in order for Hangouts to work. Even though it’s a pre-loaded app, it will just begin working regardless of the customer’s current data plan.

The problem AT&T had with Hangouts, presumably, is that the app replaces the Google Talk application that shipped by default on Android devices. That means the app is “pre-loaded,” and for pre-loaded applications to run over AT&T’s cellular network, the OS or device maker involved had to first work with AT&T on the matter, per AT&T policy.

And from the statement AT&T released last week, it seems that perhaps Google did not do so:

“All AT&T Mobility customers can use any video chat app over cellular that is not pre-loaded on their device, but which they download from the Internet. For video chat apps that come pre-loaded on devices, we offer all OS and device makers the ability for those apps to work over cellular for our customers who are on Mobile Share, Tiered and soon Unlimited plan customers who have LTE devices. It’s up to each OS and device makers to enable their systems to allow pre-loaded video chat apps to work over cellular for our customers on those plans.” [Emphasis mine]

The situation is not necessarily one of bandwidth concerns at this point, since Apple’s FaceTime is already enabled for MobileShare and Tiered customers following a similar controversy. At the time of its launch, Sprint and Verizon enabled FaceTime, and AT&T rolled out access only to select customers following net neutrality complaints.

In Apple’s case, the company left FaceTime support up to carrier discretion, and apparently Google did the same. And as is par for the course, the app is reportedly working just fine on Verizon, just not on AT&T right now.

That will continue to be the case until later this year when the change is made, though no exact date was given.