AT&T Customers Will Probably Have To Wait Before Using Google Hangouts Over Cellular

If you want to Hangout on your AT&T Android phone, you will probably need a wifi connection.

If you want to Hangout on your AT&T Android phone, you will probably need a wifi connection.

If you’ve got an Android phone, you might have noticed that your pre-loaded Google Talk app has recently been updated and is now “Hangouts,” the name of Google’s video chat service. But if you’re an AT&T customer, you might have to wait a while before you’re allowed to use that app over the carrier’s wireless network.

The L.A. Times’ Tech Now column reported on Friday that AT&T was apparently blocking customers from using Hangouts over a cellular connection. The app works fine over wifi, but users attempting to video chat over the Death Star’s wireless network were seeing messages that said a wifi connection was required.

It’s basically a repeat of the Facetime news from last year. When Apple announced the newest version of its iOS video chat app would work over a cellular connection, AT&T it would only be available for subscribers who were on one of the company’s new Mobile Share plans. Users with unlimited plans were out of luck. It later opened this up to anyone with an iPhone 5 (but without an unlimited plan).

I’ve expressed my concerns about only allowing some customers to have access to certain apps and the precedent it could set. And I’m not the only one concerned, with some advocates claiming that AT&T’s actions are in violation of the Open Internet rules which state that “mobile broadband providers may not block lawful websites, or applications that compete with their voice or video telephony services.”

AT&T maintains that this is not the case, as it does nothing to stop video chat apps that are freely available on the app marketplace from third parties.

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

Its concern, explains the rep, is for apps that come pre-loaded on a device and are likely to be more thoroughly integrated into the operating system.

“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,” the AT&T rep tells Consumerist. “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.”

The rep says that, by the end of the year, AT&T hopes to be have enabled pre-loaded video chat apps over cellular for “all customers, regardless of data plan or device.”

As for why AT&T has all this focus on pre-loaded apps, the rep claims that “Usage is higher on pre-loaded apps than on downloaded apps. That’s why we allow it on downloaded apps and have taken a very deliberate, phased approach with pre-loaded apps – all to ensure our mobile experience continues to be the best it can be for all our customers.”