AT&T confirmed that it will support the personal Wi-Fi hotspot feature that will be added to the iPhone and iPad with the release of iOS 4.3 on March 11. Even better news than the fact that it will be possible to activate the hotspot, is that AT&T customers can also deactivate the service without penalty as well.
Why is that a big deal? Well, there are many situations that arise where it would come in very handy to have the Wi-Fi hotspot capability. Murphy's Law seems to step in and make sure that there is no Wi-Fi network available when you need it most.
Picture this scenario. You are in a taxi on the way from the airport to an important client meeting. You realize that you forgot a critical presentation file, and you need to download it from a server on your company network--but you don't have a Wi-Fi connection for your laptop. No worries! Tap into the MyAT&T app on your iPhone and change your data plan to include the Wi-Fi hotspot support, then connect your laptop to your iPhone hotspot and download your file using AT&T's 3G cellular network before your taxi arrives at its destination. Voila!
While scenarios like that--or something similar with a desperate need to get online when no Wi-Fi network is available--occur fairly regularly, for most iPhone users, those situations are still unique, urgent occurrences that don't justify paying an additional $20 a month indefinitely. In other words, it's worth spending an additional $20 in the moment, but it's not worth spending $240 a year.
Thankfully, you can just revert to the standard, non-Wi-Fi hotspot data plan once the need is gone. An AT&T spokesperson confirmed to me that upgrading to include support for iOS 4.3 Wi-Fi hotspots is not an irreversible, long-term commitment. The spokesperson told me, "Customers can select and migrate between data plans without penalty or contract implications."
There is one caveat. Users who have clung to the unlimited data plan would be required to drop it and choose the DataPro 4GB/$45 data tethering plan in order to take advantage of the iOS 4.3 hotspot feature. While the hotspot tethering can be dropped, users would then have to choose the 2GB or 200MB data plans, and will not be able to revert to the unlimited data plan.
The good news, though, is that adding the Wi-Fi hotspot support includes an additional 2GB of data capacity--bringing the total to 4GB to be shared between the iPhone or iPad, and any devices connected to the Wi-Fi hotspot. It may not be unlimited, but 4GB is a reasonable amount of data for most user, and additional data capacity is tacked on for only $10 per additional gigabyte.
I am glad to have the Wi-Fi hotspot functionality that will come with iOS 4.3 at my disposal, but I am even happier to be able to access it without having to fork over $20 a month even when I don't need it.