Will I be able to use my future iPhone's data plan to surf on my laptop?
June 11, 2008 8:44 PM   Subscribe

Will it likely be possible to use a 3G iPhone as a modem for a laptop, or to use its data plan with some other hardware?

I'm sold on the new iPhone, but I've got some questions about the whole data plan thing. It seems like a bit of a waste to pay for what is essentially a second, wireless, broadband account, without the ability to use it on my laptop as well.
I've seen how-tos on the internet for how to use a jailbroken iphone as a modem of sorts for a laptop, sharing its data connection over Wi-Fi. It was a complicated process, but the possibility intrigues me. Will this be something likely to show up as a possibility without jailbreaking, now that developers can work on the iPhone legitimately through the app-store? (I'm imagining some kind of a "Internet Sharing" app) Or would that be something AT&T would likely put the kibosh on?
If the app-store terms of service will likely make this impossible, is there a piece of hardware I could swap my sim-card into and plug into my laptop? Something like that?
posted by raygan to Technology (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Sorry in advance for the speculative nature of this question, but I've been looking for information about "prohibited uses" for the app-store and things like that and can't find anything that would make this clear. Apple prohibits "malicious applications" but is this malicious? Any other insight is appreciated.
posted by raygan at 8:46 PM on June 11, 2008

I would say it's doubtful that anything like that would be kosher as far as AT&T is concerned. Without looking, I would bet that they have an additional service you can pay for--like Verizon and Sprint--that will connect your laptop to their cellular network with a special PCMCIA/USB card.
posted by jckll at 8:51 PM on June 11, 2008

I've been waiting on this since I got my 1st-gen iPhone. The trouble is it requires (a) software, which might come from a third party but Apple would still have to allow access to the right APIS, and (b) AT&T's permission, since they might explicitly disallow (or charge for) the privilege.

AT&T does allow it with some of their other phones, though, so it's not entirely hopeless.
posted by mmoncur at 9:09 PM on June 11, 2008

The buzzword for this is "tethering".
posted by randomstriker at 9:28 PM on June 11, 2008

I want this, too, but so far Apple's been mum and AT&T offers no method.

As mmoncur says, other phones can be used this way, even with AT&T, so I think it's really just a marketing decision for them. They'll allow it when market pressure forces them to, or when they can find a way to charge more for it.

I think a one-time $50-100 app from the store would be appropriate, as would some kind of daily or hourly cap on transfer, but I sure wouldn't want to pay extra/double fees to use this.
posted by rokusan at 9:31 PM on June 11, 2008

This is something I remember doing hackishly when the current iPhone first came out, at least over port 80 (regular web browsing) -- so I'm sure someone will come up with something for the 3G iPhone, even if Apple/AT&T don't support it.
posted by thejoshu at 9:35 PM on June 11, 2008

is there a piece of hardware I could swap my sim-card into and plug into my laptop?

there are devices like this for GSM, and it appears also for 3G services... I believe the GSM ones present to your laptop like a serial port with a PPP server on the other end, so you set it up as if it were a dialup connection...
posted by russm at 9:47 PM on June 11, 2008

fwiw, historically, allegedly, providers have looked askance at tethering and have no problem identifying non-phone net usage and shutting off the accounts that are doing it.

(they offer additional data plan charges for tethering users)
posted by tachikaze at 10:26 PM on June 11, 2008

3G details

The link above is for a rumor site but confirms that bluetooth tethering will be allowed on o2 in the UK. So the software is there.
posted by moochoo at 12:42 AM on June 12, 2008

Whilst download rates of 7,2 mbs are possible over a 3G HSDPA connection, a bluetooth tether will limit you to (at best) 1,2 mbs. Moreover, bluetooth is a crappy radio link compared to W-CDMA.

Better to buy a 3G PCMCIA card, or a USB modem, and link directly to the 3G radio network.
posted by three blind mice at 2:05 AM on June 12, 2008

One of the ATT leaked memos specifically says no tethering. It wont' be an Apple supported feature. But on the original iphone people were able to do it after jailbreaking their phones. Because the iPhone uses a variant of OS X, people figured out how to do it quickly. If they close a loophole, someone uses finds another door quickly. Before getting the iPhone I had data tethering on my t-mobile EDGE data account and although I rarely used it, I was worried I wouldn't have this feature. On my old Sony Ericsson, they browser and Opera mini made it difficult -- or some banks wouldn't allow the browsers -- to do some sites.

The iPhone is different. The Safari browser works on every site I go to from booking plane reservations to Metafilter. I found I didn't need to tether. Because I was still under contract with T-mobile I dropped that plan to zero minutes voice and kept the unlimited EDGE data and t-mobile hotspots until the contract ran out. I used the tethering once or twice and gave up since the connection was so slow and pages would fail to load. Instead I used the iPhone to locate somewhere nearby with wifi and drove there.

What I'm saying is, I don't think you'll miss it. The only thing I've used the bluetooth tethering with is getting traffic updates on my TomTom GPS. And those aren't as accurate as what is on the iPhone's Google traffic. If you do need to use data on your full blown computer, you'll probably want to add a data modem line to your account (probably another $40-50 and to get teh cheap card you'll need to commit to 2 years with that).

moochoo's rumor link is interesting. Especially at launch, I don't think ATT wants have anything that might ruin the quality of service on its 3G network and the iPhone. It says it is ready but the addition of all of the iPhone users on its more mature EDGE network caused outages. O2 has more experience with lots of data cards and smartphones on its 3G network and can probably control for that. ATT may enable it for an additional fee (or free -- wait, who am I kidding?) down the road.
posted by birdherder at 4:14 AM on June 12, 2008

I have the Nokia N95-3. I use the AT&T 3G network. I either tether or use this app (JoikuSpot) to turn my phone into a wireless hotspot.

I don't understand why Apple or AT&T would fight utilizing data plans in this way. It seems silly.
posted by zerobyproxy at 4:31 AM on June 12, 2008

I don't understand why Apple or AT&T would fight utilizing data plans in this way. It seems silly.

a) They don't want users using a cell phone's data plan in place of their home cable/dsl line due to the much greater bandwidth used. b) ATT already offers a more expensive similar wireless service to take the place of tethering and would rather make the extra money that comes from using 3G as your main Internet service.
posted by jmd82 at 6:33 AM on June 12, 2008

Oh, and I forgot to add that phone companies don't like you tethering, particularly if you're using it a lot. I've known people to get in trouble, though it was a warning (t-mobile).
posted by jmd82 at 6:36 AM on June 12, 2008

If the telcom has removed or locked down the native Internet connection sharing, then the classic tethering solution is a proxy like PDANet, which channels non-phone browsing through the phone's ports so it looks "legit. Going further, there is software like WMWiFiRouter, which binds your phone's data connection to its WiFi and re-broadcasts it, turning it into an access point wo which any WiFi or bluetooth device can attach. Now that the iphone has a data connection that doesn't suck so tremendously, I'd expect more applications similar to these to emerge. The problem is that due to telco pressure they probably will not get blessed by Apple and made available through itunes so you will have to go the homebrew route.
posted by meehawl at 8:14 AM on June 12, 2008

If you spend a little time trying to cut through the crap on AT&T's website, you'll see that the data plan pricing for the new iPhone is basically the same price and feature-set as the data plan for other 3G smartphones. If you look a little further, you'll see that AT&T offers additional plans for users of other smartphones that include official support for tethering a laptop for an additional fee. However, it doesn't seem that they'll be offering those plans to iPhone customers for some reason (even odder if tethering is going to be an iPhone feature supported in other countries)

If you spend a little time on Howard Forums you'll find that there are people who have been tethering on AT&T and other carriers using data plans equivalent to the basic iPhone plan (and even cheaper ones) with a variety of phones (including less-than-smartphones), but it's a game of cat and mouse. Of course, it's pretty much a moot point if Apple disables or just doesn't include the required support on the phone.

As for swapping your SIM into another device. It could work. I tried putting my iPhone SIM in my wife's 3G Razr and using the built in browser. It worked and I wasn't billed extra for the usage, but as I recall, it was logged as a different kind of data access, which might have tipped them off at some point. Of course, it might be less obvious if I was using another 3G phone with a 3G iPhone data-plan.
posted by Good Brain at 9:19 AM on June 12, 2008

Looks like you could do it but like everyone else has said... it's risky.
  1. Jailbreak your phone
  2. Follow instructions in the article
  3. Avoid any network traffic that wouldn't originate from your phone (i.e. flash)
  4. Hope AT&T doesn't figure you out

posted by sktec at 5:54 PM on July 23, 2008

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