Why No iPhone Tethering on AT&T? Too Many iPhones!

Know how some people are complaining that they have trouble connecting to AT&T's 3G network? How they drop calls? How they blame Apple? (Despite the phone working pretty dang well in other countries on other carriers). Remember the theory that there were so many iPhone 3Gs hitting the market that AT&T couldn't handle the load? (That their network was basically rabbit ears tied to old antennas? -- okay, we made that last one up!)

Now imagine that each and every one of those iPhones, especially in high-density areas like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York -- where each tower is already slicing bandwidth to razor thin margins -- suddenly found itself barraged by laptops tethering themselves on for the ride.

That might just be what's keeping AT&T from allowing iPhone tethering: fear it will crush their already strained 3G network. MacBlogz claims to have a source saying just that (via Gizmodo):

“Regardless of how many billions of dollars AT&T pours into their 3G network, it hasn’t been stable enough to handle all you iPhone users.”

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, The TV Show, Vector, ZEN & TECH, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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There are 13 comments. Add yours.

Chad Garrett says:

I would still like this functionality. However, I am sure AT&T will charge $30 more bucks a month to tether. Too bad.

rpv says:

there are other countries where the networks are much more reliable! so please make it possible, otherwise what's the point having iphone and macbook not be able to go online!

Chris says:

Besides, in some countries tethering is actually allowed by the agreement terms (e.g. Canada with Rogers/Fido 6GB data plan). Why won't Apple allow us to tether then? What's wrong with that?

The Reptile says:

@ Chris. It's not Apple that won't allow it it's AT&T that won't allow it.
@ rpv. You're right but those countries have been at 3G longer and have had the infrastructure in place and experience using 3G long before AT&T went live with it. Also, the cost of data plans makes tethering in large quantities cost prohibitive. Finally, they have smaller footprints, fewer customers than AT&T has so it is easier for them to deploy and mature their 3G networks.
Overall, I would take this as a 'no, not now' rather than a 'no, indefinitely'. They're going to face competition in the future that will allow either tethering or outright integrated chips that 'play' with competitor's networks built into laptops which will bill to a common account (I'm thinking WiMax here). My sense is that AT&T back at the launch still had about 70 or so markets that they wanted to go live with 3G in before the end of the year. We've still got 2 months for them to grow 3G before they turn their attention towards maturing what they have in place (which includes increasing speeds and granting 3G speeds to more people within crowded locations).

Jon says:

What right does AT&T have to deny me tethering? I'm not on their network so who are they to interject and deny me something that I'm contractually allowed to do (Rogers, Canada). I'm not in the same country but even I can't escape AT&T's piss poor network!

Olek says:

Please do NOT repeat again and again the same blubber about how bad is 3G from AT&T and blame on them. iPhone 3G have problems with 3G in EVERY country and network. How many times do you need to read reports from user to finally get this?
I'm writing from Poland, personally tested about 10 iPhone's 3G (yes, with 2.1) and all are crap compared to any other phone with 3G.

ethan says:

BS! I remember AT&T saying that there wasn't as much bandwidth being used as they thought!!!!

lev says:

patrick b tethering is basically using your phone Internet for your labtop so u won't have to get a Internet card does that answer your question?

Brad says:

I don't have a problem with paying the $30.00/month...or whatever it might be...but if I DO PAY...I want the service I pay for...plenty of bandwidth. ATT has a very large problem to handle...Revenue dollars received versus much needed capital growth/expansion to keep enough bandwidth for it's CURRENT customers, let alone hundreds of thousands of iphone 3G users tethering their phones to laptops...which WILL overload the system before ATT gets a chance to expand the overall bandwidth...then we ALL will have dropped calls and poor service...
You get what you pay for. Free is NEVER Free...it always comes with a price for everyone.

tom says:

i wish apple would wake up and see the horrible alliance with at&t. in big city environments, their network clearly can't handle the stress. i know of many people who went with blackberries (and other carriers) because of the poor basic function of making a phone call.

Gary says:

I switched from Verizon and am starting to regret I did. The iPhone is great, but with Verizon I paid $15/month extra for an unlimited data plan. The iPhone is much better than the pocket PC I had with Verizon, but the $15/month I paid for unlimited data also allowed me to tether. If Verizon allows it, why can't ATT get its act together and allow it. The service with Verizion was great, not true high speed but more than good enough for checking email, even with fairly large attachments.

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