AT&T to Open 3G Network to Competing VOIP Apps

Bob Preston
CUPERTINO, Calif. — AT&T is finally getting some competition on the iPhone, but it won't come from archrival Google.

Starting today, the telecom giant will open its 3G information network to other Internet phone applications for the signature Apple device.

To date, AT&T had allowed other types of cell phones to make phone calls using what's called voice over Internet protocol, or VOIP, which powers such popular services as Skype.

But here's the problem: Because of AT&T's restrictions on its 3G network, users had been forced to find a Wi-Fi hotspot to make such calls. AT&T's 3G network offers far more comprehensive coverage.

This move likely comes as the result of a longstanding struggle between Apple and Google. Apple had block Google's VOIP app, called Google Voice, from the company's App Store. The FCC took notice and applied pressure to AT&T and change its policy.

Remarkably, Apple continues to resist the incursion of Google Voice, arguing that it isn't a VOIP app. Apple's rejection of the app reads as follows:

“The application has not been approved because, as submitted for review, it appears to alter the iPhone’s distinctive user experience by replacing the iPhone’s core mobile telephone functionality and Apple user interface with its own user interface for telephone call.”

Apple's move has drawn widespread criticism from the online tech punditry, including leading tech analyst Michael Arrington.

"We all know that the real reason Apple won’t let Google Voice through is that they are scared out of their mind that Android and Google Voice will eat their iPhone lunch over the long term," he said. "Apple can’t win the fight over the long term, but they sure are willing to say and do anything in the short term to stop the advance of Google."

Arrington was referring to Google's mobile OS, Android, which is available on various platforms with different telecom companies. Tech analyst Ian Paul noted that if AT&T resisted the push from other companies to offer VOIP apps on the iPhone, they might be left out in the cold.

"That may not be a big deal, but it draws a clear line in the sand between the closed platform of AT&T and Apple versus Google's open model available on other carriers," he said.