Apple iPhone owners on the AT&T network will soon be able to enjoy tethering-or as Apple calls it, a Personal Hotspot feature-when Apple releases iOS 4.3 March 11.
"Yes, AT&T plans to support the iOS 4.3 mobile hotspot feature," an AT&T spokesperson told eWEEK. "To utilize this feature, customers will need to subscribe to the DataPro 4GB/$45 tethering data plan."
AT&T has been slow to get behind tethering-the ability to support another device using the iPhone as a modem-holding off on the capability even after carriers around the world were supporting it. Currently, AT&T enables iPhones to tether to a single device over Bluetooth or a USB connection.
On Feb. 13, however, AT&T began offering an AT&T Mobile Hotspot application that enables "select smartphone customers" to use their phones as a WiFi mobile hotspot for up to five other devices. Its introduction came days before the launch of the Verizon iPhone 4, which does support tethering, making it an easy assumption that AT&T iPhone owners would be among those "select" few. But introducing the application Feb. 3, an AT&T spokesperson told eWEEK, "We are working with Apple to bring [tethering] to the iPhone. Nothing else to share at this time."
On March 2, Apple-in addition to unveiling the iPad 2-introduced iOS 4.3, calling it an "ecosystem that offers customers an incredibly rich experience and developers unlimited opportunities." It's also only for GSM-based iPhone 4s, which leaves out the Verizon model, which is based on CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) technology.
"The new Personal Hotspot feature in iOS 4.3 lets you bring WiFi with you anywhere you go, by allowing you to share an iPhone 4 cellular data connection with up to five devices in a combination of up to three WiFi, three Bluetooth and one USB device," Apple said in a March 2 statement. Once the feature is enabled, "a status bar displays how many devices are currently connected. Every connection is password-protected, and when not in use, Personal Hotspot turns itself off to save battery life."
AT&T could not, however, confirm that it would support tethering to as many devices as iOS 4.3 allows.
By including tethering in iOS 4.3, analyst Jack Gold, with J. Gold Associates, commented following its release, Apple has also fixed the "competitive disadvantage" that the iPhone suffered against Android smartphones-a major new focus for AT&T, now that it's no longer the exclusive provider of the iPhone.
Tethering, in addition to an unlimited data plan-which is likely to end this summer-are ways that Verizon has worked to differentiate its offer from AT&T's, particularly since its CDMA version isn't able to carry a phone call and access the Internet at the same time. (Critics, perhaps surprisingly, have found this to be not such a big deal.)
While call quality on the Verizon iPhone 4 is said to be superior, it reportedly suffers from antenna issues similar to those of the AT&T model. Consumer Reports, while writing that the Verizon iPhone 4 features "great multimedia functionality, a sharp screen and the best MP3 player we've seen on a phone," said it nonetheless couldn't recommend it.
"Given our findings, we believe the possibility exists for individual users to experience [performance issues] since low signal conditions are unavoidable when using any cell-phone network," the publication reported in a Feb. 25 blog post.
Tech site AnandTech, however, which performed its own tests, reported in a Feb. 13 post that the issues appear to have been addressed.
"Death grip is essentially mitigated, and the attenuation," or loss of antenna reception, "when held, is now comparable to other smartphones," said the report.