Is FaceTime over 3G really a good idea?

Apple may be planning to add 3G data support for FaceTime on iOS devices if these screen shots from AppleInsider are a clue. Many have long desired to use FaceTime on a mobile broadband network instead of Wi-Fi, which is where Apple’s video chat service is limited to now, and I’m in that camp myself. But I’m not sold that it will happen or if it’s even a¬†good idea just yet.

From a consumer perspective, FaceTime over mobile broadband networks sounds great, at least initially. But people may feel otherwise if the application doesn’t provide the same level of service as it does today over Wi-Fi networks. Apple runs the risk of negative feedback on the experience if FaceTime calls don’t look clear, if they offer broken audio or simply drop due to limited coverage.

I recently tried a similar experiment and experienced this problem firsthand. Using a data-only SIM card in my Galaxy Nexus smartphone, I signed up for a very low-cost SIP account which enabled free VoIP calls over a data network. This is a great alternative to paying for voice minutes and the service was fantastic … where I had coverage.

The problem of dropped or missed calls kept growing over several months’ time — and note that voice uses far less bandwidth than video — so I recently gave up the approach and went with a low-cost traditional voice and data SIM card from Straight Talk. And guess what happened? No more missed or dropped calls.

I suspect many consumers would find the same issue using FaceTime over 3G unless — and this is a possibility — Apple were to offer seamless Wi-Fi switching on a FaceTime call. Even then, there will still be some folks that move beyond available 3G coverage and not have a wireless hotspot nearby.

On the surface then, FaceTime over 3G or 4G sounds great; as long as you don’t move too much when you get a call. Once we have true nationwide 4G networks supplemented with Wi-Fi hotspots and vast roaming capabilities, FaceTime over mobile broadband might be a viable option that Apple considers.

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