If you have recently started experiencing Facetime problems such as the dreaded Facetime problem “connection lost” (and whether it be Facetime problems on your Macbook or a Facetime problem on a mobile device such as an iPhone 4 or iPhone 5), well, you can blame the damn lawyers. Because the recent Facetime problems are directly related to changes that Apple has had to make to Facetime as a result of the patent infringement suit which Apple lost to VirnetX.
Briefly, VirtnetX sued Apple last year, claiming patent infringement with the Facetime system, and the result of that lawsuit was that Apple was found to have infringed four separate patents with how they had implemented Facetime. While VirnetX request injunctive relief (such as the court forcing Apple to stop using Facetime) was denied, the court did apparently see some merit in the argument that Apple should have to pay royalties to VirnetX, and that aspect is currently under litigation.
In the meantime, Apple has made changes to Facetime’s back end.
Part of the issue at hand is whether a Facetime call is directly connected – device to device – or relayed through a server. When a call is directly connected, that infringes the VirnetX patents. When it is relayed through a server, that does not infringe. However, call quality can be greatly reduced when it has to be relayed through a server.
In a recent interview with ARSTechnica, once of VirnetX’s investors, Jeff Lease, explained that he attended both the Apple v. VirnetX trial, and the post-trial hearings, and took extensive notes. According to Lease, and regarding Apple, “The judge kept telling them, you need to consider yourself ‘adjudicated infringers. Apple said, we don’t think we’re infringing, but we switched to 100 percent relay servers.”
It is believed that the switch to 100% relay happened in April, and, based on the production of Apple’s customer service logs to VirnetX’ lawyers, since April Apple has received more than 500,000 (that’s half a million!) complaints about Facetime quality, or, rather, lack thereof.
So, if you are finding Facetime quality to have been degraded recently, now you know why.
On a related note, in our own tests of Facetime, Skype Video Chat, and Facebook Video Calling, much to our surprise, Facebook came out the clear winner in terms of both quality and latency. (You can read more about Facebook Video Calling here. And while you’re logged into Facebook, please don’t forget to ‘Like’ the Internet Patrol here.
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