AT&T's FaceTime, Google Hangout restrictions to end this year

FaceTime for unlimited plans to be possible
AT&T is promising not to get in your FaceTime

Whether you're using Apple's FaceTime and Google's Hangout apps to video chat, AT&T is promising to make them fully compatible with its cellular network without data plan restrictions.

"Throughout the second half of this year, we plan to enable preloaded video chat apps over cellular for all our customers, regardless of data plan or device," AT&T said in a statement today.

The second-largest U.S. carrier expects to complete this phase-in approach by the end of 2013, according to The Verge.

A spokesperson for AT&T confirmed that depriving its entire customer base was a "deliberate" approach for preloaded apps that have a high usage, according to the publication.

Goodbye, AT&T unlimited plan ban

AT&T's ban on using video chat apps over its cellular network has been a bone of contention for smartphone owners ever since FaceTime was first announced by Apple in 2010.

iPhone 4 and iPad 2 owners were none too happy to find out that Facetiming was limited to WiFi, and that the new iOS feature would remain hamstrung for two years.

Although AT&T enabled FaceTime over cellular for some of its customers with the launch of iOS 6 in 2012, the carrier initially left out anyone who didn't pony up for one of its expensive Mobile Share plan.

This amounted to "extortion" for individual plan holders in the eyes of net neutrality advocates, who argued that it should be up to customers how they use the data they pay for every month.

That led to an Federal Communications Commission complaint, which AT&T sharply criticized at first. Eventually, though, the carrier let those with tiered data plans in on cellular FaceTiming.

Finally for grandfathered in plans

AT&T's "deliberate" phase-in still leaves its most loyal iPhone owners, those with grandfathered data plans, out of the video chat revolution when away from WiFi.

However, the promise that the video chat ban will end by the end of 2013 means that AT&T is finally able to match what Verizon and Sprint have been able to offer all of its customers for years.

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Matt Swider