Tied down

10Jul09

There’s recently been much fuss in the geek community about tethering of mobile devices such as iPhones, Palm Pres, Android G1 etc. I totally get it – when you’ve paid $$$ for an ‘unlimited’ data contract for a mobile device why would you want to pay again for some connectivity on something with a bigger screen? I can see the other side too – the telcos have surely figured out that there’s a practical limit to how much a small format device really needs to download, and fear that tethering will either melt their networks or rob them of dongle based WWAN revenue or both.

What I really don’t get is why the telcos are doing such a poor job of cross selling products here. I read today that AT&T want an extra $55 per month for iPhone tethering, which is frankly ridiculous compared to the £15 per month I pay for a 15GB WWAN contract. O2 here in the UK isn’t quite so bad, they only want £14.68 for 3GB or £29.36 for 10GB; but hang on I can get the same WWAN from O2 for the same price and get a ‘free’ E169 dongle. Wow, they must really value the loyalty of those iPhone customers.

This feels to me like a redux of the trick that the movie studios pulled as we went from VHS to DVD (and again from DVD to HD-DVD [haha] and BlueRay) – sell the same thing multiple times to the same customers mugs.

The exception here seems to be Three, who offer some cross selling discounts between their WWAN and mobile phone contracts, and various bundles of phone and dongle. Their iNQ looks interesting too, but it’s no iPhone, and the position on tethering seems ambiguous at best.

I realise that most of the telcos (especially in UK/Europe) are still struggling to crawl out of the huge crater of debt created by the 3G spectrum auctions, and that the rising popularity of WWAN and dongles finally gives them something useful (if not innovative) to do with that bandwidth. I also realise that mobile telcos have become a ‘confusopoly‘ – where nobody is supposed to understand how badly their being screwed for their calling plan; but come on guys – give the geeks what they want. Tethering should look good compared to dongles, as it doesn’t involve the capital cost of another device (no matter how cheaply they can be sourced from China they still cost something). And for those netbook fans out there don’t drive us into the arms of your competitors by artificially carving a line between two products that are really exactly the same thing – sell us the package. And when you sell us the package it doesn’t have to come with a dongle. Why is it that I can get a SIM only phone package, but not a SIM only data package? This is surely holding back the progress towards ubiquitous embedded WWAN on netbooks (and I don’t want to buy my netbook from a telco with some ridiculously long and overpriced data contract).

One contract for voice and data, and enough SIMs for the devices that I wish to use – is that too simple? Am I asking for too little?

If I want to tether – why do the telcos want to tie me down?



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