AT&T going after unauthorized iPhone tethering. Are Android phones next?

March 18, 2011 | by Andrew Kameka



AT&T Wireless knows you’re tethering or using a mobile hotspot. You feared Santa Claus as a child because he knew when you were being naughty, and it seems the same happens on AT&T service. OSXDaily reports that iPhone owners who use the MyWi app to launch wireless hotspots received warnings from AT&T about their unauthorized usage. Those customers are told to either sign-up for an AT&T Mobile Hotspot plan, stop tethering, or continue their actions and automatically be switched to the required plan.

Will Android users face a similar threat?

AT&T spokesperson Seth Bloom confirmed that the wireless carrier is indeed sending letters to “a small number of smartphone customers,” using the mobile hotspot feature, so that doesn’t mean that this rule applies only to iPhones. A number of Androinica readers told me that they actively tether on their phones and have yet to receive a letter, but is that because AT&T hasn’t gotten around to them yet or because of technical differences in the way each OS connects to the web?

This is unconfirmed, but a wireless network worker explained to me that AT&T probably discovered people using the unauthorized hotspot feature because MyWi accesses the web through a broadband gateway rather than a mobile one. AT&T may have then cross-checked some of those reports and sent warning letters to anyone who didn’t match-up as authorized.

There’s no one definitive action that reveals you are tethering or using your Android phone as a mobile hotspot. Still, frequent or heavy usage, browser user agents, or the way data is relayed may send red flags that arouse suspicion. Android ROM makers and hackers can provide some protection by editing information for connections; however, this merely decreases the likelihood that you will be discovered, not mask it completely.

There’s still a chance that AT&T may discover that you are tethering, especially if you constantly use an excessive amount of data. That alone might get you in trouble with the network. Keep an eye on your inbox if you want to make sure that you keep your current data plan and aren’t automatically enrolled into the more expensive Data Pro plan.

Thanks, Vince!