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AT&T to Slingbox iPhone users: No 3G for you

By Andrew Heining / May 13, 2009

Jake Turcotte

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Following up on a post from Monday (Is iPhone’s success – gulp – hurting AT&T?): The telecom, who the Wall Street Journal said was struggling under the load iPhone subscribers put on their network, today released a statement on a recent decision to cripple an app that lets Slingbox owners stream video to their iPhones.A Slingbox, for the uninitiated, is a device that lets users "place-shift" TV, streaming video from a home cable or satellite connection to an Internet-connected computer anywhere in the world. (Columnist Tom Regan wrote a good rundown of them way back in 2005.)

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At issue this week is AT&T's decision to limit use of the app to wi-fi connections – excluding 3G for network stability reasons. The official word, via Engadget:

Slingbox, which would use large amounts of wireless network capacity, could create congestion and potentially prevent other customers from using the network. The application does not run on our 3G wireless network. Applications like this, which redirect a TV signal to a personal computer, are specifically prohibited under our terms of service. We consider smartphones like the iPhone to be personal computers in that they have the same hardware and software attributes as PCs.

That seems logical enough, until you factor in the fact that other smartphones – including BlackBerrys – have had functioning Slingplayer apps since December 2008.

As Peter Kafka over at the Wall Street Journal's Media Memo points out, "it seems as if AT&T is really making a different argument: Just because you can watch TV on other devices doesn’t mean you will. But if we give people the chance to watch TV on iPhone, they’ll flock to it–and our network can’t handle that."

Once again, it seems iPhone's a victim of its own success. As unfair as this may seem, at least Slingbox owners can take solace in the fact that they can use AT&T's network of thousands of wifi hotspots – and that this app wasn't banned altogether.

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