Tethering (digitalmediabuzz)

The story below was posted on DigitalMediaBuzz.com in Feb. 2010. Story is posted here for archiving purposes only since original was lost when the site went down.

Tethering your mobile device, in the current format, could be completely gone within the next couple years, according to one mobile device analyst.

Jeff Orr, a senior analyst of mobile devices for ABI Research, believes that current form, which is connecting a smartphone to another device (typically a laptop computer) to use its data services as a modem, will cease to exist mainly because of convenience.

“For one, it’s convenience and mobility,” he said. “People don’t want to be tied down by cords. That won’t always work.”

Orr’s vision one day sees service providers, such as AT&T or Verizon, opening up data plans that will allow connectivity between multiple devices. He compares it to a family plan of calling minutes usage – only with this plan the family is all your mobile devices accessing the same pool of data minutes.

This revelation rests more on simple progression than the threat of more 3G/Wifi bundled devices such as e-readers or the Apple iPad expunging the use of tethering.

Currently, mobile consumers are able to use most smartphones to tether with another device. For example, a USB cord can connect your BlackBerry and laptop to allow you to access the internet through your BlackBerry’s data plan.

Service providers, however, are quick to want in on the data action and usually charge an extra fee to access this. Workaround programs such as Tether (which boasts a BlackBerry and Android app), though, exist to offer you these opportunities without going through your provider. On its end, it just sees data being used but not necessarily how.

This option has felt a major push since Tether created its BlackBerry app in March 2009.

“More than 60,000 customers in 114 countries use Tether to connect their laptops to their smartphones, ensuring a fast and affordable tethering option anywhere they have cellphone coverage,” said Tim Burke, Tether’s director of development.

Some newer devices, like that of Apple’s iPad or 3G-bundled netbooks, will carry their own accessibility to wireless data networks in addition to Wifi. To those devices, tethering would be unneeded, but that’s where Orr’s vision comes into play.

He, along with many consumers, see no reason why someone who is already paying for an iPhone data plan from AT&T couldn’t use that same data for their iPad (or other devices), rather than adding on another fee.

One possibility could be that of better data plans with a small device that could be used as a hub that would allow for instant data access for a user’s mobile devices. It’d be wirelessly tethering to each device with one-click access.

But that’s just one possibility and is by no means the correct answer. Orr says the industry just isn’t quite there yet to open up the data usage, but that it’s close. Whatever the solution may ultimately be, it’ll need to cater to the consumer.

“The solution will need to be convenient, but at a pricepoint that won’t scare people away,” Orr said. “People don’t want to be paying another $60 a month everytime they get a new mobile computing device.

“So what will these providers do to encourage me to get all of these devices connected?”

As more devices are added to everyday use – from mobile phone to iPad and laptop computer – the need for constant connectivity will continue to rise, especially for the mobile worker.

For now, tethering (through Bluetooth or USB) remains the best choice. But advanced options will be desired and consumers won’t want to pay too much of a premium. It’ll be up to the providers to make all this happen in a reasonable fashion.

And like he said, Orr expects consumers to experience this type of data evolution inside of two years.

“Those problems of combining capabilities are being addressed right now by the providers,” he said. “Tethering is a challenge, but they recognize the market needs to evolve.”