AT&T Blinks; Opens 3G Network to VoIP

AT&T reversed course on Tuesday and said that it would no longer prevent iPhone customers from using Voice over IP protocol (VoIP) services that bypass its own voice network.

Prior to this, the only way to use Skype’s VoIP telephony service was to use a Wi-Fi network, which could be spotty or unreliable. In announcing the news, AT&T (NYSE: T) noted it has offered a variety of other wireless devices that enable VoIP applications on its 2G and 3G networks for other phones, like Windows Mobile devices. AT&T this afternoon informed Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) and the FCC of its decision.

“iPhone is an innovative device that dramatically changed the game in wireless when it was introduced just two years ago,” said Ralph de la Vega, president and CEO of AT&T Mobility & Consumer Markets in a statement. “Today’s decision was made after evaluating our customers’ expectations and use of the device compared to dozens of others we offer.”

It also comes after repeated complaints by customers that competitors like Skype and Google Voice were shut out. Skype complained to the Federal Communications Commission two years ago, but didn’t find a sympathetic ear at the FCC until the appointment of Julius Genachowski as commission chairman earlier this year. The commission has begun taking a closer look at VoIP policy by carriers.

This prompted an investigation into AT&T’s and Apple’s (NASDAQ: AAPL) decision to block an application for the Google Voice service on the iPhone. Earlier this summer, AT&T said it was taking a fresh look at VoIP capabilities on iPhone for use on AT&T’s 3G network.

Skype weighs in

Skype, an eBay subsidiary in the process of being spun-out from the auction giant, was quite happy with the news. “We applaud today’s announcement by AT&T to open up its 3G network to Internet calling applications such as Skype. It is the right step for AT&T, Apple, millions of mobile Skypers and the Internet itself,” said Josh Silverman, President of Skype, in a statement.

“Nonetheless, 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,” Silverman added.

The decision comes just one day after Vonage got the go-ahead to release its VoIP application for iPhone and Research in Motion’s Blackberry phones.

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