Wednesday, February 3, 2010

What Happened to Tethering on the iPhone?

One of my biggest pet peeves against AT&T is that it needlessly prevents it's customers from being able to use it's technology to the fullest while it tries to figure out how much it can tear from their wallets. For example, tethering on the iPhone.

AT&T could offer tethering on the iPhone tomorrow. There's no legal, or technological reason not to. It just doesn't. Not only that, tethering your iPhone is so simple, AT&T has to actively force Apple to prevent people from doing it with a simple downloadable app.

Even so, it's a fairly simple hack if you're willing to jailbreak your iPhone:

Tethering with no monthly fee. But jail breaking your phone violates your service contract and can create other problems. Why should AT&T customers have to go to complicated (and possibly illegal) lengths to do something that every other iPhone carrier in the world offers?

The answer is, because AT&T hasn't figured out how much it wants charge you yet. And it wants to charge you a lot. But it thinks maybe it can't. So it would like to charge you a little, but sneak in hidden fees that charge you a lot. But maybe it can't do that.

So in the meantime, while AT&T thinks about a price structure, you're screwed. No tethering. For the rest of the world, it's 2010 and internet access is widely available. In America, thanks to AT&T, it's 1970 and you can't do anything the phone company doesn't want you to do.

How do I know AT&T's confusion on a price structure is the only reason it isn't offering tethering? Because it's a fact. Oh, sure, they might say their are legal reasons, bandwidth issues, making a deal with Apple issues, or other crap. But I'm telling you I KNOW it's because they can't figure out how much they want to charge.

Well, that and they'd rather you couldn't do it. They would rather that you have to pay separately for a separate AT&T USB dongle and pay $60 a month for that device's service. And sign a separate 2 year service contract. That's what they'd like. And that's what you have to do, if you're an AT&T customer with an iPhone and a laptop and you want to access AT&T's wireless network. At least for now.

So that's the reward for being an AT&T iPhone customer. For $120 a month in iPhone service, you get AT&T actively working behind the scenes to disable your phone so you're forced to pay an additional $60 a month (and service contract) for something you should be able to do for free.

Fine, AT&T hates you. They're greedy. Okay. Then at least be honest. Tell us, "You're never going to get tethering you bastard customers! So stop whining or we'll raise the price of texting to 50 cents!" At least then, we could move on with our lives. Stop dreaming and get used to the idea that no tethering is the price of having an iPhone in America.

But no, instead, AT&T lied. Back in November 2008, AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph De La Vega promised an audience at the Web. 2.0 Summit that tethering was coming "soon."

So Ralph promises it will be soon. But he doesn't say how much it will cost. Will it be free, like on a jailbroke phone? Nope. AT&T flacks float a price $30. They get the word out to loyal AT&T customers that it's coming soon, for a price:

But with no official date offered, AT&T PR flacks send out the message that it's only being delayed because it's complicated. More complicated than the Blackberry on which (for some reason) AT&T allows tethering.

Once again, possible price, $30 a month, limited data cap. For unlimited data, AT&T will get you a wireless PC card (with extra service contract). In case $30 for the imaginary coming service might seem a little high, AT&T flacks tried to confuse the issue. Maybe it will be even cheaper:

And no, really, it's going to come. AT&T flacks wouldn't be planting blog stories if it wasn't:

Of course, it never happened in 2009, and there is still no word of it happening in 2010.

So how much longer does AT&T intend to prevent us from using our iPhones to their fullest? Well, now the focus is on the iPad. Rumors are still floating that AT&T is going to lose exclusive rights to the iPhone, so it appears that AT&T doesn't give a shit if it's loyal iPhone customers get tethering any time soon.

Which brings us back again to why? Why not offer tethering?

Because AT&T is a dinosaur. It wants to live back in the Jurassic (1970's) period when customers had to pay whatever it wanted to charge. That time is gone, but AT&T can't stand it. So it just stands there pouting.

Everything is moving toward the idea of free or very low cost global internet access. And AT&T hates that idea. It still wants to charge for night time and weekend minutes. It still wants two year contracts to charge for NOT providing service when you want out of them. AT&T simply doesn't want to make an honest buck providing a needed service.

If AT&T wanted to charge $60 a month to tether your iPhone, there are probably a bunch of iPhone users who would simply pay it for the convenience. If it charged $30 a month, there would be many more, and probably enough more to make up for the lower price. And the fact is, at $10 a month, it would probably still make a ton of money, and keep it's iPhone customers happy. But AT&T doesn't want that. What it wants is to charge $14.95 a month, for limited data, with $29.95 for more data, with $0.49 per megabyte overages and two year service contracts with early cancellation penalties.

What AT&T loves is when you pay a fixed monthly fee and EXTRA money every now and then to make your life miserable. You know how when your phone bill is suddenly a lot higher than you thought it would be, and you freak out about if you can pay it? You know that "$240? For what? Service overage? What?" That sinking feeling in your stomach because a strange roaming fee cost $130 and that means you can't have fries with your burger for the next two months? AT&T loves that. They love those hit you when you aren't looking charges that mean you worry about paying your rent. They love you being forced to pay more than you expected.

That's what tiered pricing is all about. And AT&T hungers for tiered pricing like the Dark Lord hungered for the One Ring.

But Apple said no to tiered pricing. So AT&T has said no to tethering. So all we American iPhone users can do is wait for AT&T to finally realize it can't get what it wants and give in, or until Apple gives up and allows other carriers to offer iPhone alternatives. Or AT&T can swallow up all it's competitors and bring back 1970. Which is maybe it's long term plan.