AT&T has announced that on Feb. 13 it will begin offering an AT&T Mobile Hotspot application, enabling "select smartphone customers" to use their phone as a WiFi-based mobile hotspot for "several" other devices.
The capability, called tethering, is a popular feature among a number of Android-running smartphones-some of which can support five other devices, and some up to eight. Several non-U.S. carriers have made the capability available on the iPhone for some time, though AT&T has refrained from doing so. In its Feb. 2 press statement, AT&T didn't specify exactly which of its "select" customers will be able to download the application, though some suspect that iPhone owners will be among them, as beginning Feb. 10, AT&T competitor Verizon Wireless will begin offering a CDMA-based (Code Division Multiple Access-based) iPhone 4, versus AT&T's GSM-based version. While the devices are nearly identical, one major difference is that the Verizon iPhone 4-surprise-can act as a mobile hotspot.
An AT&T spokesperson, however, told eWEEK, "We are working with Apple to bring [tethering] to the iPhone. Nothing else to share at this time."
Also notable about the announcement is that in AT&T's official statement on the new application, David Christopher, AT&T's chief marketing officer, said, "Our customers want to connect as many devices as possible to the nation's fastest mobile-broadband network, which is getting faster with 4G."
AT&T has been outspoken about its plans for later this year to roll out a 4G network based on LTE (Long-Term Evolution) technology, like Verizon Wireless has. However, Christopher is referring-AT&T pointed out in a footnote-to the HSPA+ (Evolved High-Speed Packet Access) technology, with "enhanced backhaul," that it has been rolling out across its 3G footprint in advance of the LTE deployment. As T-Mobile did in November, it seems AT&T has decided, given how speedy HSPA+ is, to begin thinking of the technology not as 3.5G but 4G.
The AT&T Mobile Hotspot application will arrive with the launch of the HTC Inspire 4G, and bundled with AT&T's Data Pro plan (at $25), will cost customers a total of $45 per month for 4GB of data. Customers already paying $20 a month for 2GB of data will incur the same $20 monthly tethering fee, said AT&T, but will get two additional gigabytes of data per month.
Customers who exceed their monthly 4GB should expect to pay an overage fee of $10 per gigabyte.
"We want to extend the benefits of an additional 2G to smartphone customers on our tethering plan," said Christopher. "This delivers more value today for the price they're already paying-and that's what our customers want."
Customers already paying for tethering will receive a text message, as early as Feb. 13, confirming that the additional 2GB have been added to their plan, said AT&T.
The HTC Inspire 4G-look out, iPhone-features a 4.3-inch WVGA touch-screen and an 8-megapixel camera. It runs Android 2.2 and HTC's Sense user interface, and comes with HTC's Friend Stream application, which brings together a user's social networks in one easy-to-view place.
It can shoot HD video, has a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, Dolby + SRS Surround with noise cancellation and DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) connectivity, so it can wirelessly stream videos, music and photos to a flat-screen TV. And then, of course, there's that 4G connectivity, as well as WiFi. AT&T has yet to announce pricing for the device.