After the burst of publicity surrounding the release and subsequent removal of the “Handy Light” app in 2010, tethering has had some of its mystery removed. Nick Lee was the 15-year-old boy who created the seemingly innocent application which appeared to turn the iPhone into a coloured torch. Beneath the surface of this fun app, however, was a hidden code which when activated, turned the phone into a full tethering device. With the phone hooked up to a notebook via the USB connection this would allow it to be used as a 3G modem, thereby avoiding the provider’s charges and enabling the user to surf the web for free. Of course once discovered by Apple, the app was quickly taken down although those lucky enough to have downloaded early could, and still, continue to use it as a tethering device.
Not all handsets currently support tethering, nor do all service providers offer it. For those that do it can be costly and speed of connection is still slow. Apple chose not to enable tethering on their original iPad which seemed to be a deliberate financial decision probably made in consultation with their provider AT&T. In the spirit of their ongoing rivalry, Google have enabled tethering on their handsets including recent Android releases such as Gingerbread and Honeycomb. Here in the UK, O2 has just begun to include tethering in its data allowances in reaction to Apple’s recent iOS 4.3 software release which enables personal wi-fi hotspot use for the i-Phone. Up to now there has been a lack of consistency in the way mobile providers treat tethering though that could be about to change. AT&T, the largest telecommunications service in the US, has recently started a crackdown on customers tethering ‘on the side’, insisting that those partaking, agree to update their cell plans to include an additional charge.
Google’s decision on early adoption of tethering could well play a part in their web TV strategy. In the long-term, how content is delivered to the customer is still up for debate. Bandwidth limits currently restrict internet use, but improvements in data distribution will increase prominence of tethering in webcasting. Originality and exclusivity of content could be the key in hooking in the customer. For example, a single episode of a TV programme streamed for free, directly to a mobile handset in order to entice the user. If their interest was maintained, the rest of the series could be delivered through the tethered phone directly to the TV set at a charge. In this way, the handset device acts as a universal remote, not only delivering content but controlling the phone, computer and television data in addition to the home network. Just as MP3 replaced CD, LP and Cassette and TiVo replaced the Video Recorder, tethered mobile phones streaming programme content could well replace traditional Broadcasting.