GSM iPhones May Get Mobile Hotspot Feature, Say Reports

Apple may soon let GSM-based iPhones become a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot similar to the recently announced feature on the Verizon-compatible iPhone 4, according to rumors. The news comes out of Europe where two blogs--Greece-based iPhoneHellas and Netherlands-based iPhoneclub--claim they have confirmed through anonymous sources that the hotspot feature is coming to GSM iPhone 4 devices. AT&T is the exclusive carrier of GSM-based iPhones in the United States.

The update will purportedly be dubbed iOS 4.3, and it's not clear if the update would also include the rumored in-app subscriptions feature. The first English-language mention of the new rumors came from Apple Insider.

Don't Hold Your Breath U.S.A.

Graphic: Diego Aguirre
As with any feature that involves 3G support it will be up to individual carriers to support it. And that's where things may fall apart for most iPhone owners across the United States. Verizon may want to aggressively support new iPhone features, but AT&T has shown it's not so hot on supporting bandwidth-intensive services for the iPhone.

Case in point: tethering. Apple announced tethering functionality for its smartphone as part of iPhone OS 3.0 in June 2009. AT&T, however, demurred on bringing tethering to its network until summer 2010, a year after the rest of the world had it. AT&T also saddled users with a $20 convenience charge and forced people to switch to the carrier's tiered data plans for the right to tether the iPhone.

AT&T's reluctant attitude toward tethering could be repeated with Apple's new mobile hotspot feature. Unlike tethering, (which provides wireless Internet to one device) Apple's mobile hotspot feature would allow up to 5 devices at once to use the iPhone 4's wireless Internet connection. The idea of iPhone users sucking up even more network bandwidth could be a nightmare AT&T wants to avoid. The carrier recently instituted a new set of tiered iPhone data plans and did away with its unlimited data plan. A move many critics saw as a way for AT&T to rein in its bandwidth-hogging iPhone users. If that's the case, why would AT&T want to offer a service that could put an even bigger load on its network?

Then again, now that AT&T has to compete with Verizon for iPhone customers, the GSM carrier may have no choice but to offer the new hotspot feature should it prove to be popular.

For now, the iOS 4.3 update is just a rumor, but we should know more later this month. Apple may announce a new in-app subscriptions feature in mid-January that will likely require an iOS update. The company may also discuss iOS during an expected debut of a new iPad model in late January or early February.

Connect with Ian Paul (@ianpaul) and Today@PCWorld on Twitter for the latest tech news and analysis.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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