When Apple introduced iPhone OS 3.0 in mid-2009, it added tethering to the list of the iPhone's capabilities. Users in other countries have been tethering their devices to laptops for over six months now. Despite assurances from AT&T in 2008 and 2009, tethering is still not available for the iPhone in the U.S.
Engadget wanted to know why, and was able to wrangle an answer from AT&T. Here's what AT&T said about tethering:
AT&T said in pretty plain language that it thinks if it allows tethering, iPhone users will bring down its network. It's probably right.
We understand that there is great interest in tethering but cannot provide any details at this time. We know that iPhone users love their devices and mobile broadband, and that they're likely to embrace tethering just as they have other features and apps - by using it a lot. iPhone tethering has the potential to exponentially increase traffic, and we need to ensure that we're able to deliver excellent performance for the feature - over and above the increases in data traffic we're already seeing - before we will offer the feature.
Earlier this year, AT&T admitted that its network was performing "below par" in San Francisco and New York City, two regions that happen to have extremely dense iPhone populations. Though AT&T says its network in these markets has improved, it's still not up to snuff for regular use, let alone tethering.
At this point, I have to wonder if AT&T's network will ever be ready for tethering. AT&T's competitors offer tethering on a number of devices, allowing users to skip a dedicated laptop dongle and use their smartphones from mobile data instead. I think the introduction of the 3G iPad is going to place yet more strain on AT&T's network. I am sure AT&T is going to sit back and assess what sort of impact the iPad has before making any more moves with respect to tethering. And who knows what's going to happen this summer when the next version of the iPhone becomes available.