I travel quite a bit, and I have found that the “tethering & portable hotspot” facility in Android 2.2 is just absolutely wonderful. It has saved me considerable money and got me reasonably-good connectivity in places I wouldn’t otherwise have had it; I’m looking at you, big-name US hotel chains.

When I heard that telephone companies were charging extra for this, I couldn’t figure out how they were doing it; without considerable deep-packet inspection, how can you tell that there are other computers gatewaying through my Nexus One, which in fact seems to hotspot just fine on certain networks that are said to charge extra? The answer is obvious but only once you see it: the network operators modify Android on the locked phones they sell cheap along with a contract (perfectly legal, it’s open-source) to remove the built-in tethering/hotspot option, and replace it with one of their own, which they charge for.

I’m not going to weigh in on the pros and cons of the business model, because I have no insight into telco cost structures or indeed what would happen if tethering became free for everyone. There’s no doubt that for some of us it’s a major value-add and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to pay a little extra for it. I paid a few bucks a month for Boingo until I got this going, and that seemed fair.

However, I will point out that for people who travel a lot, an unlocked phone (in the range of $500 for most decent Android devices) might end up looking cheap.

Further practical advice: plug that puppy in if you’re going to be doing this for more than a few minutes, because that WiFi radio seems to eat watts in hotspot mode. And don’t stick it in your pocket; the Nexus One, at least, runs way hot when plugged-in and tethering.



Contributions

Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: David Megginson (Aug 28 2010, at 15:40)

Rogers allows free tethering for any data plan 1GB or over, but with the N1, as you mention, they really have no way to tell. I have become very dependent on tethering in the past few months.

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From: kar (Aug 28 2010, at 17:13)

While I couldn't agree more, are there any 2.2-equipped devices available to purchase (unlocked, contract-free), other than the Nexus One, with the tethering function uncrippled ?

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From: Dan (Aug 28 2010, at 20:21)

Tethering is free in New Zealand. It's one of the few telco services that they don't try and rob us with

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From: Sivan (Aug 28 2010, at 20:30)

BlackBerry plans have included tethering for some time now as a standard feature. It's not a hotspot, just using a USB cable, managed by the BlackBerry desktop app. There has never been any hacking or carrier controversies involved, it just works, though not widely advertised.

Maybe a hotspot is not the kind of solution a carrier would be comfortable with. I wonder if the coolness is worth it.

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From: will sours (Aug 28 2010, at 22:42)

This is why I feel the custom ROM's and people who make them possible are vital to Android. Many of us would be liking Android a lot less if it weren't for these people uncrippling phones that aren't Nexus One's for us that dare to try out their efforts. Some of the carriers are trying their absolute best to ruin the platform, and sometimes succeed in turning people off of Android completely. The Nexus One is also getting a bit long in the tooth, and may not be the phone for everyone. Some want a physical keyboard, a larger screen, or front facing camera for example. There should be some new Nexus devices since they're one of the few that isn't ruined by carriers or bad manufacturer customization and old software.

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From: Kevin Gaudin (Aug 28 2010, at 23:02)

French carriers prevent browsing via tethering by filtering on the user agent. Common desktop browsers just display a blank page when browsing through tethering.

Anyway, you can change your user agent string on most browsers to anything that doesn't look like internet explorer, firefox or chrome and then it works. Only limitation is that with a custom user agent, some great webapps (like gmail) switch to a 'light' version.

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From: John Gill (Aug 28 2010, at 23:03)

Couldn't agree more, I love the tethering.

I have a N1, the version that uses the Rogers, Canada frequencies. However, I'm currently in the UK and it is not playing nicely with Orange. I'm guessing their 3G is on the other frequency set.

Curiously, I can get GPRS if I use my Rogers SIM with the Orange network, but the Orange SIM doesn't want to do GPRS. I spent an age on their support line, but it was painful. My guess is they need to enable GPRS on the SIM, but I couldn't get them to look into that.

In other news, I'm finding more places starting to offer free Wifi (eg Ottawa and Toronto airports) and quite a few hotels (high end hotels seem to be a notable exception, where you can expect to pay $10-20 a day for wifi). I assume the airports are finding that fewer and fewer people are paying for wifi, since they have data on their phones, so they may as well offer it for free.

The free wifi is invariably unreliable though, so tethering is the way to go for me.

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From: Attila (Aug 29 2010, at 00:28)

Tethering is free in Hungary too, on all mobile carriers. They just don't care what you do you with your data plan. From anecdotal evidence, I know that this is the case in most European countries.

I was admittedly scandalized when I learned that US carriers charge you extra for this.

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From: Santiago Gala (Aug 29 2010, at 06:55)

Tethering over USB will heat the phone less and keep it charging from the laptop. A but less cool but...

Somebody asked for 2.2 devices. A free HTC Desire will update to 2.2 including tethering soon after purchase, at least mine did.

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From: Bjoern (Aug 29 2010, at 07:46)

That is why the Nexus One was the only good Android phone. Why did Google kill it so quickly?

How can you otherwise buy a phone that is not tainted?

I think Android is great, but at the moment it seems as if operators and vendors will ruin it, the same way they ruined the mobile experience before the iPhone.

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From: Yaggo (Aug 29 2010, at 07:48)

Wow. The telcoms are really ripping off people in some countries. My 3G data plan has no speed limits, is not capped, no P2P or anything else filtered, tethering is allowed, and three sim cards are included (= three devices). You know what I pay for it? 14 EUR per month. This is in Finland.

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From: John Gill (Aug 29 2010, at 10:05)

Update on Orange UK and the Nexus One:

I made it into an Orange shop today. Very helpful guy who was their Android expert. Apparently, I have to enter an Access Point Name under the network settings.

Adding a new name, with 'Orange WEB' as the name and 'orangeinternet' as the APN has done the trick.

An added bonus, I have 3G, so it looks like the Rogers version of the Android has frequencies that work with Orange in the UK.

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From: Jonas (Aug 29 2010, at 15:33)

I don't understand the American cell phone market. When is an unlocked phone _not_ cheap? I mean, do you really think your telco provider makes a monthly payment deal that makes you pay _less_ in the end?

Sure $500 may seem like a lot, but paying $20 during 24 months is $480... if there's no interest to pay. And I bet you the monthly payment deal you get from them has lots of little fees built in so your deal will be a lot worse than that.

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From: Paul Prescod (Aug 30 2010, at 05:58)

When the iPhone came out, it seemed that the device and OS vendors were starting to tell the telcos how things were going to be. But now it seems that the telcos are back in charge and the Android/iPhone revolution is over.

Google has the copyright on Android and control over the App Store. They have some leverage in the same way that Oracle/Sun does over what's called "Java".

Although Oracle uses its power for evil, I'd love to see Google use its for good. I want to see them sue a telco for shipping a version of Android that damages the Android brand by restricting tethering or otherwise removing features.

Here's a serious question: do I get any guarantees when I buy a device branded "Android compatible" at all? Does the trademark have any concrete meaning?

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From: Bruce (Aug 30 2010, at 18:13)

Yeah, I don't need tethering that often, but it's a useful enough feature that I'll likely insist on it on future phones. Really disappointing that Google dropped future Nexus devices, if nothing else to define the standard by which other devices are measured.

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From: Agnes Riley (Aug 31 2010, at 13:18)

Couldn't agree more. I actually have been paying for Boingo and I never use it.

I actually got into an argument the other day with someone about how the phone companies should not be charging for tethering, since they weren't charging years ago, when I tethered my Nokia (no questions asked).But all of a sudden they wake up and realized, "oh, we cannot control them and they eat our bandwidth, those pesky smartphones", so they are trying to do what they can to minimize damage. And I think $20 on top of my expensive cell phone bill is just not my kind of deal.

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From: Mike (Sep 02 2010, at 20:17)

agree here too, also (proud) owner of the N1, via AT&T, and I've been ridiculously using the tether/MIFI feature - thank goodness I grandfathered in with my "unlimited PDA plan" *evil grin*

Thanks to the N1's car-dock (and the desk-dock), mines always streaming 'something', either Navigate/G-Maps, movies/videos from the web or music via XIIA LIVE and DI.FM-site.

I too use my N1 as a show-off in features, it's always nice to see the unbelieving wide open eyes of others, when the Froyo browser's flash on SPEEDTEST.NET boasts 3 Mbits down/1 Mbit upstream (3G) and have that made available via the WIFI-hotspot feature. the WIFI hotspot in such a 3G-speeds was one a '(professional)life-safer' to one of my clients, because she was able to participate in a live video conference with her bosses

The resulting heat is actually worrisome to me at times, I wonder what that'll do to the Li-Po battery, even though i check regularly with dialing *#*#4636#*#* and check the battery's health status.

Just a SHAME that Google stopped so fast selling the good thing on their site! I was lucky to order my docks' and 2 spare batteries in time before Google shut down the N1 store.

Because of my N1 features show-off, quite many friends and clients in my social environment have dropped their iphones, blackberry's and windows-mobile phones and got themselves Android phones. :D

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From: Dirk (Sep 19 2010, at 03:39)

Tethering is free in the Netherlands, with T-mobile. Not really fast, but works pretty stable.

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From: Counsel (Oct 14 2010, at 05:57)

I'd like tethering, but I'm just not bithered enough to root. On the free v. contract issue, I end up paying the same cost for monthly service whether i buy unlicked or contract. The analysis would be 480 usd for service and 500 usd for unlocked phone or just 480 usd for locked phone and service. Depending on your use, either could be reasonable/logical...

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