iPhone Personal Hotspot: another excuse for the networks to rip us off

iPhone 4
What's next? Charging extra for speakerphone?

There's something admirable about genuinely miserable people, the kind of people that greet the dawning of a new day by asking, "how can I really ruin this day for everybody?"

The kind of people who see everyone as money sponges they can squeeze to get a bit more cash.

The kind of people who run mobile phone networks.

iOS 4.3 is here, and that means Personal Hotspots: the ability to turn your iPhone 4 into a Wi-Fi access point for devices such as your computer or your iPad. It's just like sticking a Wi-Fi router on your home broadband, and it's a feature Android already offers.

Now, you'd think that since iPhone data plans are so ridiculously, ruinously expensive, and since almost all of them have a cap on the amount of data you can use each month, the personal hotspot feature would be free.

You'd be wrong.

With the honourable exception of Three, it seems that if you want to use your iPhone as a hotspot and you're not on a million quid per month data plan, you'll pay extra for it.


Data is data

I've seen suggestions that the networks are worried about data hogs: people will connect their laptops to their iPhones and immediately download Windows Service Packs, AV updates and Blu-Ray rips.

If only there was a way of penalising such customers, for example by setting a limit on how much data they could download in a month. The networks could mess with them while we're at it by calling it "unlimited data" when it's really half-a-gig.

Deterring data hogs is the only reasonable explanation for making you pay extra for tethering on an iPhone, but we already have a deterrent in the form of data caps - and you don't pay for personal hotspots on Android devices. So what's different here?

There are only two possible explanations.

One, iPhone data is a different shape from Android data. It's triangular, or maybe octagonal, and it gets stuck in the internet tubes.

Or two, the networks are bastards.

I know, I know. It's a tough one.

Imagine if ISPs behaved like this. On a typical day my broadband connection is used by a MacBook Pro, an Acer Aspire, a PC I made out of old bits of wood and string, an iPhone 3GS, an iPhone 4, an iPad, an Apple TV, an Xbox 360 and quite possibly my next-door neighbours, the postie and the milkman. By phone firm logic I should be paying a surcharge for that, or several surcharges.

By phone firm logic I should be paying extra if I put a call on speakerphone.

Data is data. Provided you don't exceed your data limit or bring down the network, what you do with that data when it leaves the mobile phone network is none of the operator's damn business. Charging for tethering on a capped data plan is profiteering, plain and simple.

Maybe the networks realise that. O2 told us earlier that their new tariffs, which will be announced in the next few weeks, will include tethering as part of your data allowance - and that existing customers would be able to get those tariffs. The cynic in me says "yeah, provided you sign up for another 24 months". I hope I'm wrong.

If you want a personal hotspot, don't pay for it. Wait and see what new tariffs emerge, whether the operators will let you move to them without signing away your eternal soul, and whether the various networks realise how greedy they're being when they ask you to pay twice for your data.

And if they still expect you to pay extra for tethering?

Jailbreak your iPhone.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.