First there were rumors that Microsoft planned to mandate that wireless carriers provide free tethering with Windows Phone 7 devices. Then, a Microsoft source denied that, claiming that it would be up to the individual carriers to determine how to charge for tethering. But, today Microsoft revealed that–in fact–the Windows Phone 7 platform will not even be capable of tethering when it launches.
Contrary to being a cause for alarm or concern, or some sort of sign that the Windows Phone 7 OS is not ready for prime time, the news is more or less irrelevant. More powerful and capable smartphones, combined with the rise of tablets and the greed of wireless carriers has rendered the concept of tethering somewhat obsolete.
For years, the Apple iPhone has been technically capable of tethering from both a hardware and software perspective, but AT&T–the exclusive wireless carrier of the iPhone in the United States–would not allow it. AT&T finally introduced the tethering option earlier this year, but with a passive aggressive pricing model that suggests that AT&T still hasn’t fully embraced the concept.
After pulling the plug on its unlimited data plans, AT&T implemented a tethering option for $20, which requires that the user also subscribe to the 2Gb data plan for $25 per month. The tethering fee covers only the privilege of sharing that 2Gb of data, and does not include any additional allocation of bandwidth. So, users that previously had unlimited data for $30 a month can now look forward to spending 50 percent more money to share a relative pittance of 2Gb across two device. Thanks AT&T.
Verizon recently announced its intention to implement tiered pricing in place of unlimited data plans as well. Like AT&T, Verizon also has a habit of restricting the native abilities of its top-end smartphones to ensure it can nickel and dime customers for every last byte of data.
Even Sprint, which still offers unlimited data plans and allows devices like the EVO 4G to operate as a Wi-Fi hotspot, hinted that it will explore the possibility of adopting a tiered data pricing structure. With wireless providers intent on charging as much as possible for every byte consumed by every device that accesses its broadband network, the concept of tethering doesn’t seem all that appealing.
Portable mobile broadband hotspots like the Virgin Mobile MiFi or the Clearwire Puck offer unlimited data connectivity for up to five devices simultaneously without the burden of being shackled to a contractual obligation. The advent of white space Wi-Fi–coming soon thanks to a recent FCC vote–may make broadband data from wireless providers entirely obsolete.
So, don’t bother losing any sleep or shedding any tears over the lack of tethering in Windows Phone 7. That feature, or the lack thereof, will have no bearing at all on the ultimate success or failure of Microsoft’s re-engineered mobile platform.