Could There Be A Wrench In Apple’s BIG PLANS?

Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) plans to offer its FaceTime video chat service on cellular networks with the release of the iOS 6 operating system this fall, but there are several questions in front of wireless providers as well as consumers as the switch becomes real.

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The service is expected to eat up large amounts of data for users, who will have to decide whether they’re willing to pay more. It will also have a huge impact on the total data use for wireless carriers, considering the sheer size of Apple’s user community. While using FaceTime over a cellular network will be available only on the latest versions of the iPhone and the iPad, it would still include millions of devices. It is also unclear if the major carriers will let FaceTime be used freely on their networks or if restrictions will be applied.

The move, though, coincides with Verizon’s (NYSE:VZ) plans to introduce a new data system that is likely to raise prices for many users. AT&T (NYSE:T), which was the first to charge for a preset amount of monthly data in 2010, is expected to announce a similar plan soon. Sprint (NYSE:S) still offers unlimited data to users.

An AT&T spokesman told MarketWatch that the company was “working closely with Apple on features disclosed for iOS 6, and we’ll share more information with our customers as we get closer to launch.”

Using FaceTime consumes about 1.5 to 7.5 megabytes per minute, according to Akshay Sharma, an analyst at research firm Gartner. That would translate into 11 hours of talk time from one gigabyte of data use at the lowest rate. At the highest rate, it would give about two hours and 15 minutes of talk time. Streaming video on a 4G network consumes six megabytes per minute.

According to Charles Golvin, an analyst at Forrester, FaceTime has a larger base than other video-calling apps, including Microsoft’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) Skype. “The preponderance of data plans connected to the iPhone are now metered, so the concern of someone using a lot of data is now mitigated,” Golvin said.

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