Does FaceTime Take Up Data Time?

by Geoff Whiting

Carrier support for Apple’s FaceTime video calling service has created a lot of confusion over how exactly FaceTime operates in terms of data and minutes in an iPhone’s monthly plan. While initially there was no way to use FaceTime in a manner that ate up your data plan, carriers now enable FaceTime calling over a 3G or 4G network, which means there are cases it will consume data from your plan.

FaceTime Basics

FaceTime is Apple’s video chat application that's supported by some models of its iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and its Mac computers. You can initiate the service by opening up a FaceTime app and “calling” the email address of these devices or by calling the phone number of an iPhone. To support the call, you must be connected to a Wi-Fi or cellular data network. The connection type determines whether there are any costs to you.

Wi-Fi Use

To use FaceTime without consuming your personal data plan, you must connect the device to a home or other Wi-Fi network. Wi-Fi networks that use an Internet connection provided by your cable or DSL provider won't access your iPhone or iPad’s cellular data connection and won't send information across that cell network, so no charge will be incurred. However, using a Wi-Fi network provided by a smartphone serving as a Wi-Fi hot spot will use data from the plan of the hot spot device.

Cellular Network Use

According to Apple, every major cell phone carrier in the U.S. supports FaceTime video calls on its data networks, though some such as AT&T have support limited to specific data plans. This means that you’ll be enabled to make a FaceTime call when not connected to Wi-Fi and these calls will always consume data on your data plan. Check the network status icon on the iPhone or iPad to see what kind of network you're connected to; a 3G or 4G icon means you’re getting charged.

Switching Calls

One area of confusion comes when you're already on a voice call but then activate FaceTime to have a video chat because this potentially uses your data. The call initially will use your voice minutes, but switching to a FaceTime call will access your data network and stop using your voice minutes. If you're connected to Wi-Fi, then you won't be charged; if not, it will count toward your data cap.

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About the Author

Geoff Whiting is a writer and copy editor who has specialized in business technology, consumer electronics and research reports since 2007. He has written for national magazines like "American Shipper" and "BIC Magazine," has written daily news articles for FierceMarkets, and has crafted research reports for Rider Research, Intel and Spotify.

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