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5/4/2011
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The End Of Wireless Tether For Android

Google is stopping customers of certain wireless networks from downloading apps for Android devices that allows them to tether other devices.

If you have free apps on your Android device that allows you to tether other devices, you might want to hang on to them. Google is removing access to those apps for some phones from the online market.

People that want to get online with their laptop or tablet without buying a separate wireless subscription often tether their device to their smartphone. This allows them to use the phone as a high-tech modem and get online. For many Android users, this may be coming to an end.

Google is cracking down on free tethering in order to pacify some carriers. The wireless carriers would rather you pay a fee either for tethering plan or buy a device like a MiFi or USB dongle that will let your PC get online. However, that is really overkill for many users that want to get online occasionally when traveling.

AT&T charges $25 per month for a 2-GB per month data plan. For $45 per month, you get a 4-GB plan that also allows tethering. Verizon charges the same fee--an extra $20 per month for an additional 2 GB of data.

The way around these fees or lack of services is to use a number of apps that turn your phone into a modem. Droid Life reports that Google is starting to block access to these apps from certain phones on specific networks like AT&T and Verizon Wireless. Devices like the Nexus S on AT&T's network or Droid X on Verizon's network can no longer download and install tethering applications. Customers with those devices may be able to find those apps on third-party sites.

Part of the problem is the carriers are encouraging this behavior, unwittingly of course. Take the example of AT&T. To require a data plan that is 80% more expensive than a non-tethering plan is a bit of a money grab. AT&T has data caps, so why do they care how you use it? If you want to buy a 2-GB plan and use a few hundred MB a month with your laptop, what difference does it make? That is like Heinz telling you how you have to use ketchup after you buy a bottle. Fries and hamburgers are ok, but not meatloaf. That is a different kind of ketchup and you'll need to pay extra for that.

Many just want to get online occasionally when traveling and cannot justify paying an extra $20 per month to get access for their notebook. Of course, you could always use the prepaid plan. Verizon has a $15 per day plan that gives you 100 MB of data.

I don't see it getting any better for users either. Nominal fees I can handle. But $240 per year isn't nominal. As the carriers get larger, either organically or through acquisitions, like the pending AT&T acquisition of T-Mobile, these fees will just get worse, as will the kind of power they wield over Google and other entities to get their way.

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