AT&T and Apple admit deal to block VoIP on iPhone

AT&T and Apple have each responded to the FCC inquiry regarding the rejection of the Google Voice app from Apple's App Store.

AT&T and Apple have each responded to the FCC inquiry regarding the rejection of the Google Voice app from Apple's App Store. The problem is that their answers don't seem to be in sync and neither of them really sounds like the truth.

In its response to the FCC, Apple claims that the Google Voice app has not been rejected and is still under consideration. As explanation for removing Google Voice-related apps that had already been approved, such as VoiceCentral, Apple alluded to app store policy related to apps that duplicate iPhone functionality or alter the iPhone experience. I thought the whole point of having thousands of apps was so users could customize the iPhone experience to their liking.

AT&T responded to say they have an agreement with Apple that no app should be allowed which enables VoIP (voice over IP) calls over AT&T's cellular network, but that Apple did not ask them about Google Voice and they had no input into the decision to block or delay the app.

In a statement on their site, AT&T said "any AT&T customer may access and use Google Voice on any web-enabled device operating on AT&T's network, including the iPhone, by launching the application through their web browser, without the need to use the Apple App Store."

It sounds like Apple is hedging its bet by claiming the Google Voice app isn't even officially rejected yet. AT&T denies any part in it, but at the same time claims that there is a standing agreement not to enable VoIP over its cellular network. The whole thing seems silly since, as AT&T points customers can use Google Voice without a Google Voice app through the web interface, and customers who place calls with Google Voice will still be using cellular or data services or both.

Ironically, Google is being probed by the FCC for similar shady practices related to the use of Skype for placing VoIP calls using Android-based phones. Google's response to the FCC seems to imply that the mobile provider, TMobile, requested that Skype be blocked. Apparently Apple and AT&T are not the only ones feeling threatened by alternate services being used from its mobile platform.

The practices of trying to block competition by denying access to the platform seems to have stirred the hornets nest and drawn unwanted attention. The FCC probe of the Google Voice app rejection is a part of a larger FCC inquiry into wireless industry agreements and business practices. The larger probe is also looking at wireless provider billing practices and whether or not exclusivity agreements between wireless providers and wireless device manufacturers violate consumer rights.

The wireless industry is in for a shake up it seems. With pressure from innovative technologies that overlap mobile service functionality from one side, and from the FCC ensuring that consumer rights are protected and that ethical business practices are followed, the wireless industry is going to have to roll with the punches and figure out how to adapt.

Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He tweets as @PCSecurityNews and provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com.

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Tony Bradley

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