AT&T will begin offering a mobile hotspot feature on some of its smartphones starting 13 February 2011. The iPhone wasn’t mentioned in this announcement. The feature lets you turn your phone into a cellular router, sharing access among multiple devices to the mobile broadband network using a phone’s built-in Wi-Fi adapter, similar to a MiFi router. The service will start with a so-called 4G phone, the HTC Inspire 4G, which can use a faster network flavor that AT&T is currently rolling out across the United States. AT&T will bundle 2 GB of additional data usage with a revised tethering and mobile hotspot plan.
The iPhone will almost certainly gain this feature too, since Verizon Wireless offers the portable hotspot as an option for the iPhone 4. Verizon and AT&T both charge a separate fee for this feature, although Verizon waives it for a few Palm Pre models.
AT&T will certainly use the same feature that Verizon relies upon, which is called Personal Hotspot in the Settings app. Macworld’s Jason Snell walked through this feature in his Verizon iPhone review. Personal Hotspot includes Wi-Fi sharing, as well as Bluetooth or USB connections between an iPhone and a computer with appropriate driver support.
AT&T requires that you have the higher-volume DataPro plan ($25 per month for 2 GB) to use tethering currently or with the new hotspot feature when it becomes available on a smartphone model. Regardless of the name, it’s still $20 per month extra. You can switch between DataPlus ($15 for 200 MB per month) and DataPro without paying a change fee, and turn the phone-as-modem features on and off as well.
The new plan adds 2 GB of monthly data usage to the existing 2 GB included with DataPro. That goes some distance towards rationalizing the otherwise profit-only tethering and mobile hotspot fee, since all data usage is already metered. Additional gigabytes (charged by the partial or full gigabyte) cost $10 per month on both DataPro (after 2 GB) and the tethering/hotspot add-on (after 4 GB).
The Verizon Wireless iPhone service plans offer only a $30-per-month unlimited data plan, and charges $20 per month for the hotspot feature. Verizon includes 2 GB of usage just for the hotspot and tethering offering, and surcharges $20 per GB after that initial 2 GB has been exhausted.