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The End Of Wireless Tether For Android…For Some People

Yesterday Information Week ran a story entitled, “The End Of Wireless Tether For Android.” The story quite rightly describes how Google is responding to carrier requests to disable the distribution of free tethering apps via the official Android Marketplace.

According to the author,

“The wireless carriers would rather you pay a fee either for tethering plan or buy a device like a MiFi or USB dongle that will let your PC get online.”


“Take the example of AT&T. To require a data plan that is 80% more expensive than a non-tethering plan is a bit of a money grab. AT&T has data caps, so why do they care how you use it?”

I’ve long held that there’s a fundamental disconnect with how wireless data is handled. It should not matter what device I use, as long as I’m paying for the data. If I pay for 5 GB/month then why does the fact that I’m using a netbook, laptop, tablet or cell phone make any difference?

If I had a USB type interface I could well move it between a desktop, netbook, laptop and even some tablets. The carrier simply wouldn’t know anything beyond the amount of data consumed transferred. And why should they?

Carriers need to start thinking about data more like voice minutes. We’ve long had “Family Plans” such that a pool of minutes can be shared across multiple handsets. Data should be no different. You pay for 2, 5, 10 or 20 GB of data/month…but then you should be able to access it on any device you own and have registered to your account. As we all have more and more mobile, IP-enabled devices this is the only rational approach to take.

To assume that I will pay $40-80/month per device to have each of 5-6 devices on some kind of mobile network is simply insane. I won’t. Period. No room for discussion. Moreover, if necessary I will change carriers to one who realizes the folly of the current situation…In a New York minute!

However, the carriers are walking a fine line. They want to promote the use of the service because that drives revenues. But they don’t want you to use it too much. Use too much data and that will force them into costly new network build-outs. The definition of too much is often well within the scope of what they are already selling you. Hence AT&Ts well-earned reputation for disappointing iPhone users.

The present state of the wireless business really has a lot in common with health clubs. They oversell their capacity by a considerable margin, hoping that your post-Christmas holiday infatuation with getting into shape will wane by valentine’s day. When in mid-January you go to the gym and find it too crowed to be enjoyable that only serves to demotivate you, which works in the companies interest.

For its part Google has little choice but to play along and restrict the distribution of free tethering applications.  That doesn’t impact everyone though. AT&T & Verizon may be restricting tethering apps, but T-Mobile has allowed tethering to users of the G2 since last Novembers firmware update. Further, they don’t seem to be charging extra for it.

I routinely tether to my G2 while travelling. When in a market served by their HSPA+ network it’s typically faster than my older Sprint 3G Mifi. Tethering to the G2 is supported by the version of the OS that T-Mobile is themselves distributing. It didn’t require the installation of a third party app or utility.

I checked this afternoon to ensure that tethering was still working. It was fast and flawless as ever.

This sort of thing is the very reason why I prefer to keep my cellular business with T-Mobile. They are actually delivering the goods in a plain and relatively honest way. This is the very customer-centric behavior that I feel is imperiled by their pending sale to AT&T.

The present state of the rest of the wireless business reminds me more of residential broadband about a decade ago….the large companies are promoting the service in public, but also working hard to ensure that the continuing economics of scarcity define their revenue model.


This Post Has One Comment
  1. Agreed 100% on all points. I will note that while Sprint charges extra for their official tethering, they have not as of yet made any attempts to interfere with third-party tethering solutions and did at one time state that they had no intention of doing so. We’ll see how long that lasts.

    This is also a good reason why any smartphone power user considering an Android device should make sure the device can be rooted and supports third-party ROMs. If it’s not a developer device like the G1, Google Nexus series, or Moto Xoom and needs to be hacked for these featured it’s also a good idea to root immediately and never take official updates until they’ve been validated and cleaned if necessary by the community, as often updates patch the methods which were used to gain root access.

    I currently run CyanogenMod 7 on my HTC Evo 4G, giving me the latest Android OS and every software feature found on the Nexus S regardless of what Sprint decides to do in the future with their official ROMs.

    Also agreed on the ATT/TMo thing being bad for the market. They, and to a lesser extent Sprint, are the ones keeping AT&T and Verizon in line and offering plans friendly to power users.

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