There is no denying that both the Mango Windows Phone 7.5 update, and its smooth deployment globally has been nothing short of brilliant! It almost seems nitpicking to raise concerns over still-missing features or expectations that remain unmet by Microsoft and it’s Carrier and OEM partners. That being said, this post has been born out of the simple frustration of not being able to get any of these three parties to confirm who has ultimate accountability for explaining the lack of Tethering support for apparently compliant hardware devices in the market today.
Tethering, often referred to as WiFi Sharing or Personal WiFi Hot-spots quite simply, is the process of using your Smartphone’s 3G connection (or other mobile network) wirelessly across to other devices you own. In days gone by, Tethering was possible on any number of handsets via a USB cable, allowing the phone to essentially function as a modem for your laptop or other devices on the go. More recently, the USB cable is not necessary – as many modern smartphones allow the connection to be wirelessly shared to paired devices, not unlike the way you pair a bluetooth device.
Tethering requires 3 components to work:
1) Compliant hardware. As commented on by WPCENTRAL, the chipset inside the smartphone has to be capable of re-broadcasting the carrier’s network locally to your desired device. Along with this, the OEM must obviously create firmware that interacts with the OS to allow tethering to function. As an example, AT&T in the States have a webpage confirming Tethering supported handsets on their network: LINK
2) The Operating System must also support tethering. Windows Phone 7.5 (Mango) has been confirmed by Microsoft as supporting Tethering (with some qualifiers I will get to shortly) in an official Blog Post this week. LINK
3) The Carrier (Or Telco) must also enable Tethering on your account or support it on its mobile network. In the US, Tethering is presently a little more restricted than on Australian Mobile networks. One theory is that this has resulted from the US practice of offering “unlimited” data on many of their plan offers historically – and with Tethering enabled by default, customer’s could exploit this and exceed the “fair use” policy that the carrier would have expected for personal mobile use. Consequently, it is normally available (where 1+2 above are met) at an extra monthly charge. Again by example, AT&T charge $20 p/month to add Tethering (LINK) on business plans.
OK – so now we know what is required for Tethering on a Smartphone.
In the lead-up to Mango, tethering proved to be one of the most requested extra features customers were wanting with the OS update. This week, as Mango was seamlessly launched around the world, Microsoft proudly confirmed that Internet Sharing or Tethering had indeed arrived!
First up is Internet Sharing, which you might know better as “tethering”. Starting today our hardware partners and mobile operators have the option to let you use your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot so you can stay connected anywhere there’s a data connection. If this feature is enabled on your phone and by your carrier, you’ll see an additional “Internet Sharing” item under Settings. It’s pretty cool stuff and a feature that I’m really looking forward to using – I spend a LOT of time on the road and I hate it when I’m not connected, so this is a great option for me. And since Internet sharing lets you connect up to 5 devices at a time, I’ll be able to keep all of the PCs I travel with online when I’m on the go. I should note that this feature will only be available on new Windows Phones that have radios capable of broadcasting a connection; if you update your existing phone to 7.5, it won’t give it the ability to use Internet Sharing. (Although it would be cool if it did, right?) LINK to MS WP7 Blog
Fantastic you say, right? Well actually – there are two important and interesting comments at the end of this announcement that need to explored further.
Most disappointingly, Microsoft advised Tethering will “….only be available on NEW windows phones….” What? Hang on a second, let’s roll this back a little. As far back as Launch for Windows Phone 7, people like Long Zheng and other tweakers and bloggers had reported that both the Samsung Focus and Omnia 7 handsets supported USB Tethering (LINK) with some service menu tweaks. This was from Day 1 of Windows Phone 7. Further to this, it has been widely reported that both the Focus and Omnia 7 by Samsung have fully compliant hardware to support wireless tethering. But more on this shortly.
The next peculiar comment in the above quote is the; “…Although it would be cool if it did, right?”. This almost throw-away comment looks innocent enough on first glance. However if you ask yourself the question of why such a conservative company as Microsoft, a company that has been repeatedly “bitten” on its hand (often undeserving) for public comments, promises, timings etc re settings its customer’s expectation very high – would add this line, and it becomes more and more curious.
WPDownUnder can only conclude that this seemingly inane and extraneous addition to their public comment has a deeper meaning, and that Microsoft are in fact, still working on enabling this with compliant Generation 1 handsets, an opinion also expressed by WPCENTRAL in their analysis. This line just seems to be completely at odds with the Microsoft way of avoiding ANY public comment or announcement on a perceived shortcoming – and seems to have been carefully constructed to avoid setting an expectation, but hinting that they know something we don’t.
There is no doubt for the OEM’s and carriers there is vested interest in Tethering only being initially available on the latest Generation 2 handsets. This will obviously help drive new handset sales, as existing customers and new alike, weigh up their purchasing decisions (for an older discounted GEN1 handset or a new GEN2 phone). The lack of Tethering on their “current” or cheaper 10 month old discounted handset will make the new, premium priced hot-off-the line handset that does support Tethering look even more attractive.
So back to Mango and Tethering on Samsung handsets. In an open and transparent fashion Microsoft released for Developers (unlocked accounts) Betas of the Mango OS some weeks/months ago. Naturally, this has provided the modder/hacker/tweaker community the opportunity to do tear-downs and report some interesting findings. Posts by Long Zheng (LINK), reports by sites like WPCENTRAL and then communities like XDA have all led to the recent method for completely enabling wireless Wi-Fi sharing / Tethering on both the GEN1 Samsung Focus and Omnia 7 handsets.
So…WPDownUnder spentmore than an hour on phone calls to both AT&T and Samsung US senior tech support in the wee hours of the morning today. This ultimately frustrating (and expensive!) exercise only resulted in each party pointing the finger at each other. Samsung advised that they build the handsets for AT&T, and it was up to AT&T to handle tethering questions. AT&T advised that it was Samsung that builds the phones and manages the firmware to allow Tethering.
On one thing they were both 100% aligned. The Samsung Focus (WPDownUnder’s handset of choice) DOES NOT support Tethering. I beg to differ, the picture above – and the various success reports at XDA confirm the opposite in fact.
In Australia, when queried on Tethering, Telstra confirmed to WPDownUnder that like with compliant Android or iOS handsets, if the OS and handset supported Tethering, then Telstra fully support the use of Tethering under their Network and phone plans – at no extra cost.
So who is accountable? Is there an NDA from MS to its partners on this matter? Was there no time for testing Tethering on older hardware without slipping the Mango release date globally further as WPCENTRAL speculate? Is there an intent to promote new handset sales at the expense of existing customers with hardware that is compliant?
I guess time will tell. As a Focus owner, I have not been tempted enough to risk running the sequence of instructions to “hack” my handset and enable Tethering, which is also why I have not linked the XDA instructions directly here (once bitten, twice shy – following the “Walshie” NoDo experience)…Some clarity for us all by Microsoft and Samsung would be nice…
<A Frustrated> Sheeds.