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Of all the subtle yet significant enhancements in iPhone 5, perhaps the sneakiness is FaceTime. Not only do we get a 720p camera for the first time on an iPhone, we also get the ability to make FaceTime calls wherever we are, thanks to iOS 6's untethering from Wi-Fi.
But with unlimited data plans quickly going the way of the Cube, this one-two punch of an upgrade is a bit of a double-edged sword. AT&T has already put limitations on it; the once-exclusive carrier is only letting users under its Mobile Share umbrella to use FaceTime over Cellular--thereby shutting out grandfathered unlimited users. Verizon doesn't seem to have a problem, but then again, it dropped its unlimited plans months ago; Sprint's cool with it even for unlimited customers, but there isn't much it won't do to get your business.
So why all the limitations? Because streaming live 720p video over 4G is going to eat up quite a bit of data. According to Verizon's handy data calculator, streaming 5 hours of 4G video per month (not taking quality into consideration) will consume more than 1.7 GB of your plan, at a rate of about 350 MB per hour (using the 3G iPhone 4S, that number drops to about 250 MB). But since FaceTime is sending and receiving video--and we're talking HD--those estimates might actually be a bit conservative.
What's unclear is whether Apple has taken steps to save us from ourselves. While FaceTime over Wi-Fi will use every bit of the camera's resolution, we're not sure if Apple will limit the picture quality when using a cellular network. But we haven't heard any grumblings about that, and based on the carriers' response, it appears as though it won't. Obviously signal strength is a mitigating factor, but iPhone 5 users shouldn't experience much lag over 4G; over 3G, iPhone 4S users might struggle some, even with its VGA camera.
We might not like it, but there's a reason AT&T and Verizon are scrambling to make sure you're paying for FaceTime over Cellular. But it's not the strength of their networks they're worried about--it's their bottom line.