Apple revealed today that the iPhone 6, and perhaps existing iPhone models upgraded to iOS 8 as well, will be able to automatically offer themselves up as wireless hotspots to Mac computers owned by the same user. The feature means that not only will Mac users be able to tap into wireless tethering any time their iPhone is within range of a 4G LTE and their Mac can’t find wifi, they’ll be able to do so wirelessly and without any configuration. For power users on the go who have wanted tethering for as long as the iPhone has existed, this is the holy grail of portable computing. But are major cellular carriers like Verizon and AT&T about to allow it to happen?
The iPhone has a rather winding history when it comes to the issue of tethering. Back when AT&T was the only iPhone carrier, it only allowed tethering to happen if the customer was willing to move to a limited data plan (back when everyone had unlimited data plans by default) and pay a flat monthly surcharge on top of it. That pushed some geeks to hack their iPhones into being able to tether surreptitiously, and became a running bone of contention.
The carriers have since relented and allowed tethering to be achieved more easily. But most users still aren’t aware that they can plug their Verizon iPhone into their Mac, click a few buttons in System Preferences, and start during the web on their Mac using their iPhone’s cellular data. And now Apple is throwing the auto-hotpost into the center of the public’s attention by making it a key feature for the iPhone 6 and iOS 8.
Now Verizon and AT&T are likely either worrying about whether they need to try to sabotage this feature before Apple releases the iPhone 6, or whether they should be licking their lips in anticipation for it. Tethering can cause iPhone users to eat through their monthly allotted data plans rather quickly as they try to do things like load the non-mobile versions of web pages, watch long videos, and download large files on their computer while forgetting that they’re being metered by the megabyte. If the 4G LTE networks can handle the explosion of additional data usage that iPhone 6 auto-tethering is about to bring, AT&T and Verizon can cash in big-time in the form of overage charges. But if the auto-hotspot proves so easy to use that Mac users end up using it often and in large numbers, it could push existing LTE networks to their limit.
With U.S. carriers facing almost no regulation in this area and effectively able to charge whatever they want for mobile data, one has to wonder if perhaps they’ve already signed off on the iPhone 6 auto-hotspot behind the scenes. Or is Apple once again attempting to give iPhone users something they want, whether the carriers like it or not? That answer may come between now and the time iOS 8 is launched in the fall. And will Apple make the feature available to every iPhone user who installs iOS 8, or will it be limited strictly to the iPhone 6 and perhaps the current iPhone 5S and 5C models? That answer may not come until launch day.