back to article AT&T ends illicit handset tethering

AT&T is clamping down on subscribers who have jailbroken their iOS devices or rooted their Android handsets in order to tether their computers or tablets to the intertubes without paying for that service. "We've noticed your service plan may need updating," AT&T less-than-subtly tells unauthorized tetherers in an email …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    Oh look

    Its the great "unlimited" plan again..... Any company which advertises unlimited plans should be frankly taken around the back of the bike sheds and given a good kicking.

    1. Lance 3


      It was unlimited but tethering was not allowed. So, they were not lying about the unlimited portion.

      I have heard that one person was using over 300Gigs a month on his iPhoney. He used it to play Xbox live, download music, movies and just overall Internet browsing. People wondered why AT&T imposed caps.

      1. AdamWill


        ...and yet they're also sending this message to people on capped plans. How is it not then a simple money grab?

        There's absolutely no good reason to charge someone for 'tethering', on a capped plan. It costs the provider exactly the same however those bytes are consumed. It's a money grab, pure and simple. Legal? Sure. Bullshit? Also yes.

        In summary: be dumb pipes, already. Which, sadly, in most markets, will never happen due to the usual fear mongering about regulation.

      2. Tom 13

        The data plan was unlimited.

        Over 300G a month on an iPhone is a problem whether it was tethered or not.

        I can see that AT&T has a case in that they sold the plan to one person, not many, and that tethering introduces the possibility that more than one person can use it. But that looks like a far dicier proposition to prove.

        This one is going to wind up in US courts because they are the ones who ruled it was legal to jailbreak phones.

        Full disclosure: I own an EVO HTC and have a paid tethering plan to go with my "unlimited" data plan, so no freetard here. Just someone fed up with the mess from the courts and the pigopolists.

        1. Anonymous Coward

          Oh BOO HOO

          One person killed the network. Honest. We SAW them do it. We couldn't do ANYTHING to control it in any way. They just RUINED it for everyone.

          Liar, Liar, pants on fire.

      3. Anonymous Coward

        for ONE F'ing person?

        That's just insane.

    2. Grego

      Thesetelcos should learn from Finns

      At least my Finnish operator provides unlimited data starting 10 Euros / month, and you can sign up for one month only. That gives me maximum 1Mbit down bandwith, but I can tether to my hearts content. By paying more I can get more bandwith.

      That I call a fair deal.

  2. Gordon 10 Silver badge

    speaking from the UK


    And I thought our telco's were dirty thieving scumbags.

    1. Your Retarded

      Our telco's what?

      see title

  3. The BigYin

    Sorry, what?

    People pay for a service (the connection). So long as they do not exceed whatever the agreed limits are, how they use that service is no ones business but their own.

    If they are exceeding, AT&T should just charge them more.

    1. Ammaross Danan


      The problem with the "people pay for unlimited" argument is the Terms of Service says "unlimited" for the device in question. Not the device plus 5 friends. That's what the tethering package is sold for. You, as the user of the service, are not entitled to use it outside the scope of the Terms of Service. You might as well argue with your internet provider (cable, DSL, etc) as to why you can't resell your connection to your neighborhood and act as an ISP. You're paying for the internet connection, so why can't you share the love? Perhaps you're not even pushing something back out, merely letting your neighbors share your cable TV. Is this within your rights as a subscriber? No. Sorry. Doesn't work that way.

      You buy a device and sure, you should have full power to do with it as you will (up to and including hitting it with a sledgehammer), but as a subscriber to a service, you can not use the service as if you own it. You're merely paying a fee to be able to use the service in a very finely described way.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Problem? Maybe.

        The data is still coming from the device in question though. There is a limit to how much data can be transferred over the connection no matter how many devices are tethered. If the customer is paying for x GB then it shouldn't matter how they use it. If the contract states you cannot tether then fair enough. If it doesn't it is AT&Ts problem, not the customers. O2 have pulled the same whine over here. Their contracts do not forbid tethering. Are AT&Ts the same?

        As to your ISP analogy, my ISP does expressly state how you can share your connection. It can be shared with anyone in your household, but not outside that. Explicitly stated in the contract.

        1. Mechman


          This is explicitly stated in the contract too. You buy an "unlimited" plan that covers the phones data downloads, not downloads being passed through the phone.

          1. The BigYin

            @Ammaross and @ Mechman

            Well the answer is simple, isn't it? Don't sell "unlimited" if you cannot provide "unlimited". As I said, how the end user uses their bandwidth is no one's business but theirs.

            So AT&T should perhaps just sell capped contracts (not this tethered/untethered crap). If people buy a 5Gb contract and blow it by letting their friends leech, then that is entirely their lookout. They should also be able to tether their phone to their own devices to avoid having to buy extra contracts and dongles just to get connection.

            They want to re-sell? Still not a problem, so long as they have purchased enough down speed/data allowance to cope.

      2. Tom 13

        The "plus 5" part is unproven.

        If I were the sort of person to download movies from BitTorrent for my PC at home via my phone I could easily exceed "typical user +5 friends" usage. Still only me, just using the tethering for convenience. Landbased ISPs already essentially lost this battle. I expect the cell companies will too. They are essentially becoming ISPs but trying to apply teleco rules to it.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I wonder how they can tell. Deep packet inspection of any web traffic to check the user agent perhaps, and assuming if it isn't a mobile browser that you're tethering? Any AT&T customers that are tethering but using a VPN tunnel (or just not using a browser on their tethered devices) able to confirm/deny whether they've received a warning too? Oh yeah, and totally agree that if you're paying for a utility, you should have the freedom to use it how you wish. Imagine if the gas company pulled shit like "Yeah, you can use the gas for your central heating, but if you want to use it with your hot water too, you'll need the special Gold Premier Heating Plus Extra plan..."

    1. Lance 3

      Poor example

      Actually they do. They will give you a discount if they can turn AC off. Some power companies charge you a premium if you go over 500 kwh a month. They don't sell the service as 500 kwh plus overages.

      The terms stated no tethering. So the abusers should be happy that have gotten away with it for this long.

    2. david wilson


      >>"Imagine if the gas company pulled shit like "Yeah, you can use the gas for your central heating, but if you want to use it with your hot water too, you'll need the special Gold Premier Heating Plus Extra plan..."

      You want a gas company analogy?

      Maybe a better one would be:

      Gas company installs a gas boiler and charges you a flat-rate £X/month for as much usage of the boiler as you want.

      Someone drills a hole in the side of the boiler, taps in to the gas, and starts using lots of the 'free' gas to run their huge gas cooker, gas showers, gas patio heaters, etc.

      Gas company tells them to stop, or pay extra.

      Seems fair enough to me.

      1. The BigYin

        @david wilson

        Thing is, the tap has been taken on the house side of the meter, so the extra gas is counted. The gas company should just charge the home owner for the total. Owner's problem.

        If the gas company was dumb enough to sell at a flat rate with no caps, then it is the gas company's problem.

        Unlimited means unlimited. Pure and simple. We should not let companies alter our language to suit their own needs. I have no issue with caps, just don't sell a capped/restricted/limited service as f***ing "unlimited".

        1. david wilson

          @The BigYin

          >>"If the gas company was dumb enough to sell at a flat rate with no caps, then it is the gas company's problem."

          Though if the gas company made the terms clear in the contract, then it's the *customer's* problem.

          Even when there's metering and explicit limits involved, if the contract is explicitly for a device which is likely to use a smaller fraction of the limit than if other devices were consuming as well, that is likely to have been a factor in calculating the pricing.

          A company might offer a xGB/month pure-phone contract in the knowledge that few people apart from the heaviest users will use anything like xGB just by using a phone, so effectively, they're working out costs/profits/charges based on an expectation of a certain type of usage. If more than a few people connect other devices that add extra consumption, that does change the economics.

          It seems perfectly fair to have an up to xGB phone-only contract and an xGB phone-plus-attached-devices contract and to charge less for the phone-only contract based on different expectation of average usage.

          One way of looking at it is that the phone-only contract is effectively actually charging for a lower expected average usage, but having relatively more 'headroom' built in.

          If that's the logic being used, *and* contracts are written accordingly, I don't see that a customer has much right to complain.

          It wouldn't be realistic to be literal ("I paid for xGB!!!") and nonliteral ("I don't care what the contract says!!!") at the same time.

      2. M Gale

        More like..

        The boiler has a crapton of capacity and you hired a plumber to have radiators in all your rooms, not just the kitchen.

        And all analogies are bullshit.

        1. david wilson

          @M Gale

          >>" More like the boiler has a crapton of capacity and you hired a plumber to have radiators in all your rooms, not just the kitchen."

          Which would be fine if that was explicitly allowed in the agreement, debatable if it wasn't, and definitely not fine if it was explicitly not permitted.

          If a contract actually says "Doing X will cost extra", then doing X will cost extra, and if people dislike that sufficiently, then they can always take their business elsewhere if someone else offers a better option.

      3. Tom 13

        Bad example.

        Someone drills a hole in the side of the boiler. Boiler goes boom. No user, no problem, but also no money for the gas company.

  5. mafoo

    "I pay for unlimited data"

    Unfortunately they also signed a contract saying they would have to pay extra for tethering.

    Damn sly telocs

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Signed contract?

      Did they sign a contract saying tethering was extra? Or is the tethering just an additional tariff and the contract doesn't mention tethering? I have no idea. Do you?

      1. Mechman


        Yes, it does. They say up front tethering is separate and extra.

  6. Stuart 22

    How do they detect tethering?

    As per title ...

    1. dssf

      How do they know?

      I am sure there must be an undisclosed diagnostic bit in the phone's OS that periodically has to send a bit or bit flip on a pre-encoded pattern to the tower or the provisioning server. If huge amounts of data are streaming into and out of the tower for a handset that is not "envisioned" to be USB tethered, then check the USB port useage stats and other stats (such as the WiFi radio antenna being off or handling minimal traffic or no traffic). If it is active, and the phone is serving up 15 tabs of browers or 99 tabs when an Android internet browser supports only 4 tabs max and Dolphin HD only 9 or 10, while Youtube is streaming on an non-android/non-ios client, then presume the user is USB tethering. Something like this is how they know.

      Google, Apple, and Samsung and HTC and others must have some chip or reader in the phone and are not openly informing us. Probably, some developers will come forward.

      1. spodula

        detecting it?

        It could simply that they look for the headers in the data.

        If your Iphone has Safari on it, and all of a sudden the Telco sees "Internet Explorer" or "Firefox" in the headers, its doesnt take genius to guess its not running on the phone..

  7. Shonko Kid

    Be interesting to see how 'they know'

    As just looking at headers such as the HTTP client is going to be easily fooled.

  8. James R Curry


    While I oft-agree with your characterisation of freetards, I strongly disagree in this case.

    AT&T are selling blocks of data -- already limited blocks of data. It seems like a cash grab to expect people to pay more depending on the device they use to consume them.

    Just my two cents (per byte).

  9. QMaverick
    Thumb Down


    OK, so I'm now that gas company, and when you buy gasoline for your car, I say that you can only drive it from home to work with one stop in between every other day. That's completely fair because I'm the gas company, and you're paying for my service to fuel your car. No problem there, right?

    Fact is, UNLIMITED data should be UNLIMITED. If they want to charge specifically for the uses you put that data to, then we're getting into net neutrality issues. Additionally, they should have stated up front that the plans weren't actually unlimited and that you would be punished for heavy bandwidth use.

    Why are organizations and people OK with companies like AT&T screwing the customer in the supposed name of "capitalism." Consumers have rights too--not just companies, quit fighting for the bloody people that are making a fortune, and start fighting for the ones that can barely afford the "unlimited" service in the first place.


    1. dssf

      As a gas station owner, it is not your concern

      Whether a driver screeches to a mad halt or starts off like a jackrabbit. You have no vested interest in nor any power over a car or driver to make the driver bet gentler to the drive train or to not tear up the pavement. Even the tire manufacturers won't weigh in. One of them stands to sell new tires even in the face of the reselling of used or retread tires.

      1. dssf

        OTOH, you DO have a vested interest and a duty

        To ensure the ground storage tank is water- and sediment-free. You might want to provide periodically sanitized toilets, some good soothing music at the pump, and subliminally-sold peanuts and drinks.

        Maybe we as users should in concerted fashion just boycott downloading non-text items for 3 days. Whomever each ISP is paying for surge bandwidth or fixed, minimally-available bandwith even before surge kicks in will probably become pissed. If we figure out how to do rolling bans, like dissidents of a sort, it might force the greedier of the execs to stop doing things like ponzi-scheme sign-ups that bankroll their tower rollouots based on doe-in-the-highbeams people.

        But, it really is a laugh that South Korea and Japan and even other places in the world offer or can off better, faster, and cheaper fixed AND mobile access. It is insulting that my EVO 4G typically gets 500 to 2000 kb ps down, but cannot USB tether it, a feature that is built into the phone. If I want to tether, I have to pony up $25 more per month and do it wi-fi. Or, keep using my crap-ass sierra wireless card which cannot be software-upgraded. Only if i use iwnodows or mac can it be updated, by OS changes. Or, i can get a novatel chip. But, I'm torn between demanding my phone have wired/usb tethethering or having a separate, dedicated credit-card-sized gizmo like the upcoming Novatel card.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Small country, small problem.

          South Korea and Japan are both a lot smaller than the United States (Japan is about the size of California, South Korea that of Illinois) and a lot denser. Getting the critical mass needed to wire and air up countries that small is less of an issue.

          Now take a country like the United States, with a large geographic area and vast areas of sparsely-populated land. I'd hate to be the one who gets tasked with running a high-speed like from Boston to Los Angeles...or worse, Miami to Seattle.

    2. David Webb


      You can actually use the car analogy for this, but not in the way you think. When you have a car you purchase insurance, my bike is insured for social only, so I'm not allowed to use it to commute nor for business, even though I've paid for my insurance I'm limited in how I can use my bike, if I want to commute, I have to add that option.

      This tethering is like they have purchased their insurance but not bothered with commuting yet use it to commute to work, the insurance company is saying "hey, you got to pay for this" and you're saying "hell no!".

      1. The BigYin


        But you insurance was not advertised as "unlimited", was it? How pissed off would you be if you bought "unlimited" insurance and then discovered weasel-words in the micro-print?

        Unlimited is unlimited - don't sell it if you cannot provide it.

  10. Anton Ivanov

    History repeating itself...

    Once upon a time ATT had the delusions that they will be able to charge extra for additional computers in the house. In those (10+ years ago) days ATT invested significantly into analysis and fingerprinting connections to detect NAT and try to charge the customers for the offence of having more computers connected to the internet than what they have paid for. And we all know what this ended up with - consumers having a ton of devices behind NAT.

    Let's see if the history repeats itself...

    1. M Gale

      Also reminds me..

      Of when Blue Yonder (now Virgin Media) had a rule barring you from hosting anything other than "personal use" servers over broadband, and no servers at all on dialup. That somewhat insane rule (almost as insane as running a server on dialup) didn't last too long!

      Anyway, in some parts of the country, VM are still the only feasible choice for broadband so are a de facto monopoly. I understand AT&T are in a similar position. "You pays your money, you makes your choice" doesn't sound quite so justifying of onerous business practice in this case, surely?

  11. pip25

    It is AT&T's network which is being used...

    ...and it is completely understandable that one has to pay according to the traffic he created on the network.

    How that traffic is created, whether it comes from a router, a mobile phone, or me sending a constant '1' stream for several hours is none of their damn business. Any subscription terms which say otherwise should be subjected to legal review.

  12. asdf

    haha thank Jobs

    AT&T is gods way of punishing the Appletards for holding Jobs jock and not waiting for the iPhone to be available on a half decent network.

  13. Andus McCoatover

    Thought I'd look up 'tethering'..

    ..first, to make sure I understood. Yes I do. In Nokia-land (physical as well as phone-wise), it seems there's no restriction. Indeed, on the Ovi site There's An App. For That!(tm).

    Does the job admirably for the rare occasions when I, or a friend need it. I'm on 'all-you-can-eat' with Saunalahti, and haven't found anything in the small print to deny. Currently €10/mo. for access, the app (lite) is free. Premium might be worth it to keep unwanted grunts and freetards off my network, I say, it's nice to have in the toolbox when needed.

  14. Anonymous Coward

    Cheaptards, maybe

    So why don't you, the unnamed Techblog commentator, just pretend AT&T had burned down and choose another sponsor or maybe even pay full price for the phone? If you don't want to play by AT&T's rules, leave the game.

    I would have ended with a smug comment about my N900 and how I feel morally superior, but alas, Nokia has left the right path, too.

    Damn you, mass market! I don't need no Angry Birds!

  15. Wallyb132

    This makes me happy!

    Reading this makes me happy, happy that i'm a T-Mobile customer, I pay $25 a month and i get unlimited data usage and tethering, yes i said unlimited! T-Mobile it seems is the last / only company left on the planet who knows the definition of unlimited and has a grasp of what it means...

    I know its a matter of time until T-Mobile falls to the dark side, at which time i'll consider my options, but for now i'm perfectly happy...

    AT&T is a ripoff of the worst kind, i was with them for just under a year, and holy shit my bill doubled, as compared to T-Mobile, and their customer service was total shit (not as bad as sprint, but not far behind either), it was unreal...

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Tmobile is no more

      Hate to tell you this but Tmobile was just purchased by ATT

      1. Tom 13

        Not exactly. They have what amounts to a preliminary agreement.

        It still needs to be reviewed by the FCC and frankly, even as a free market conservative, I am doubtful I could sign off on this one.

    2. david wilson


      >>"T-Mobile it seems is the last / only company left on the planet who knows the definition of unlimited and has a grasp of what it means..."

      I think you mean "fortunately, their customer balance between light/normal and heavy users is currently enough for them to make the profit they want".

      Whether they keep their service unlimited is going to depend less on their understanding of the definition of unlimited, and more on how their customers behave on average.

      If they had a shitload of people joining them in order to make really heavy use of the unlimited+tethering offering, you could bet fairly safely that it wouldn't last at the current price.

      The 'dark side' isn't solely an evil-corporate thing - a great deal comes down to the behaviour of individual customers, and whether there are enough light users to subsidise the heavy users.

    3. stiv

      sorry to be the one.....

      oh deary, don't open the financial section tomorrow until after you've had a nice breakfast

    4. david wilson


      "Reading this makes me happy, happy that i'm a T-Mobile customer,..."

      "AT&T acquires T-Mobile USA from Deutsche Telekom for $39bn"


  16. me n u
    Thumb Down


    "Very few things in life would make me happier than seeing AT&T burn to the ground."

    Whole-heartedly agree. While at&t is within their rights to do so, IMO, they shouldn't. As consumers, our only real choice is to say "no more", because all the cell phone companies are doing more or less the same thing (as if that makes it OK). So maybe our option is to go back to landlines (at least those won't fry our brains and other body parts).

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Unless AT&T have a problem with users using a VPN, could one potentially route all traffic through that and AT&T wouldn't be any the wiser as to the contents of the data stream from that phone?

  18. The Other Steve
    Thumb Up

    You signed the contract, now suck it up

    Alternatively, find some way of switching the browser User Agent, which off the top of my head is about the only way I can think of that they would be able to tell ? If only there were some kind of firefox extension for that.

    I think the carrier tethering policies are dumb to the point of self harm, O2 want GBP 7.50/month (down from 15, ISTR) for 500GB, I can buy twice that much PAYG for a tenner, so no sale, but still, see title.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You signed the contract, the contract doesn't forbid it.

      The thing with O2 is, or at least was, that there is nothing in the contract that states you cannot tether. There is a section that states you cannot put your sim in a modem (no tethering is not the same as this, your sim is not being placed in another device which is what the clause is discussing) but that is not being done. Therefore if you can get your phone to tether without paying O2 extra then they have no case against you, you are not in breach of contract.

      The best AT&T can legally do in my non lawyer opinion is terminate the contract with the appropriate notice period if they expressly forbid tethering in the contract. If not they have no leg to stand on. Either way they also have no basis for automatically charging for a service that was not agreed to by the customer.

      1. The Other Steve


        You are wrong in all your assertions, until you understand construction of contract you need to stop making assertions predicated upon your ignorance.

        1. Your Retarded
          Thumb Down

          RU AL?

          If you are so expert on these things, instead of just telling someone else they are wrong why don't you explain why or offer an alternative explanation / viewpoint / opinion?

          If you give some convincing reasoning then people will be more likely to see where you're coming from.

  19. Anonymous Coward

    Verizon did this ages ago...

    When I experimented with tethering on my Droid, the only webpage i could see was one saying "you need to have tethering added to your data plan" - this was at least a year ago. Which sucks, because I then asked, and I apparently can't get tethering added to my data plan.

    1. kain preacher

      @Verizon did this ages ago

      Really , cause when I plugged my laptop into my Verizon cell phone and opened up fire fox I got redirected to page asking me to pay $49.99 a month for tethering . Oh and have you looked for tethering programs in the market place? Cause programs like easy tether pro allows you to do tethering with out the $49.99 a month plan. So far Verizon has not complained .

    2. Anonymous Coward

      @Verizon did this years ago

      True, if you enable tethering via the OS, you'll get routed thru Verizon. But you can tether via the PdaNet app for free - no need to root your phone. Works great on my droid1.

      Can anyone explain why it's legal for AT&T to differentiate, given net neutrality laws? I get that you sign a contract, but if that contract runs afoul of NN laws.........?

      Anyone see the article about AT&T's 4G service being slower than 3G? If that's not false advertising, it's at least shady. I'll be staying well clear of their services.

      1. david wilson


        >>"Can anyone explain why it's legal for AT&T to differentiate, given net neutrality laws? I get that you sign a contract, but if that contract runs afoul of NN laws.........?"

        Since when were there laws saying you could connect whatever device you want to someone else's phone network?

        1. M Gale

          But you're not.

          You're tethering a device through a phone that I presume has been approved for connection to a public telephone network. There's no more a circuit from your laptop to AT&T than there is from me to Vulture Towers right now. Ain't packet switching great?

  20. XMAN
    Thumb Down

    Doesn't seem right

    Wouldn't it be more appropriate to block/restrict internet access than sign customers up to a service that they haven't agreed to pay for?

    I thought I had a rough deal with a 800mb per day limit on my 3g internet here in the Philippines. For 15 quid a month it gives me the equivalent of ~24GB of bandwidth per month. Funny how it's considered 'new technology' here but it's cheaper than the US.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      They agreed to a plan that said no tethering and they tethered.

      They agree to it if they continue their tethering ways. So they have an out.

  21. dssf

    Form a class action to burn down the "data plan"

    that costs $75 or $65 per month. Demand that the CPUC (if in the USA) forces the phone service/carrier to profide $10/month "emergency use only activation plan", and then buy a 4G/etc hotspot that gets 5 to 10 mbps (1,000 kbps or so).

    The excuse for Sprint and others for charging that $10 extra is that they expect we'll use our EVO's and other smart phones to pull down massive data. But, they want to FORCE us to go it via wifi but not grant tethering. Tethering is a capability IN THE PHONE. WiFi tethering can sometimes be non-secure fi the user is clueless or inept. I sometimes woul PREFER USB tethering just to make sure that the ONLY device i tether is the ONLY DEVICE that gets bandwidth. For convenience sake, many users will badly enable the the wifi without encyrption, passwords, or hidden names so the 5, 6, 7 or 8 other devices can easily see and use the modem-phone.

    However, one sprint rep told me that the wifi tethering via USB generally is worse in experience for the user than wireless tethering. Can anyone reading weigh in on that?

  22. Old Handle

    Same old scam

    The old Unlimited does not mean unlimited scam. Hey didn't a read a story on here recently about how that might be illegal, maybe that was the wrong country though.

    1. GuyC

      Unlimited is allowed to be limited

      According to the Advertising standards agency if a FUP is mentioned and that only a small minority of atypical users exceed the FUP, it is deemed to be "unlimited" for the majority of users and so allowed. If you wanna get this changed, make a complaint on and also and see if you can get them to use the dictionary version of unlimited as opposed to the marketing definition of unlimited

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Old Handle

      >>"The old Unlimited does not mean unlimited scam."

      Except, of course, it's not a 'scam' when it comes to anyone who's seen it before, unless they have some crashing inability to learn from experience.

      What's that old saying?

      "Fool me once - shame on you. Fool me twice - I'll just go and whine over and over about how unfair it is on the internet"

  23. Julian 3

    The Solution!

    For all you wondering how they can tell:

    All IP packets have something called a TTL associated with them. It stands for Time To Live. Every "hop" along the network from one router to the next reduces the TTL by one. When it reaches 0, the packet is dropped. This was introduced to keep routing problems from overloading the network. If for example, by some error a packet was going around in a circular path, the TTL would eventually reach 0 and prevent a packet storm.

    The thing is, ALL routing devices do this. OSes use standard TTLs. For example, let's say both your iPhone and laptop use 127 for the TTL. AT&T will receive packets from your iPhone with a TTL of 127, but since the packets from your laptop pass through your iPhone first, they arrive at AT&T with a TTL of 126. They can detect a tethered device this way.

    Apple uses a TTL of 64 for the iPhone, by the way. So change the TTL on your computer to "65" and there should be no problem. Here's how to do it:

    1. Click Start - Search and type “regedit”. This launches the WIndows Registry.

    2. In the registry, navigate to the following registry key [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\Tcpip\Parameters] HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE






    3. In the right pane, right-click and select New – DWORD (32-bit value) and set its name as “DefaultTTL” and set its value anything between “0? and “255?. The value sets the number of Hops or links the packet traverses before being discarded.

    Kudos to Ryan Laster1. I don't have an iPhone to test this.

    1. Christopher Key.

      The Solution?

      I'm not sure about them detecting based upon TTL values. If the phone is acting as a NAT then this is certainly possible, but it was my understanding that (at least in some setups), the phone acts as a modem, and hence the 'external' IP would get assigned to the tethered device.

      1. chr0m4t1c


        The phone acts as either a router or a NATing router between the network data connection (3G, Edge, whatever) and the tethering method (WiFi, Bluetooth, USB), the phone doesn't appear as a modem to the device using it, just a network access point.

        Depending on what type of router the phone is acting as may be what is giving the game away. It could be something extremely straightforward like it doesn't do any NAT work and the network is seeing two or more DHCP address requests coming from what should be one device (not likely).

  24. Rich 3

    Run a VPN and tether over that

    Of course, you'd have to pay for the VPN portal, mostly.

    Here in NZ, we get absurdly low (500M) data caps but no restrictions on tethering.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And newspaper publishers...

    ...therefore have a right to impose a surcharge if their product is eventually used as loo paper (exception for the daily mail as that is obviously its primary purpose)

    1. dssf

      Extra charge?

      In the end, would that... (re)constitute a "raw deal"...

  26. Anonymous Coward

    Forget Unlimited - this applies to capped Data plans!

    It seems easier for the righteous to start complaining of people taking advantage of unlimited data plans with tethering - very easy to point the finger and say those evil people over there have hacked/jail broken their phones and are 'stealing' bandwidth from us other poor sods etc....

    Forget all that

    The majority of AT&T users no longer have unlimited plans - they are on 2Gb per month for 25$ or whatever.

    Forget the jail breaking of iPhones - lots of people have droids with standard 'wifi hotspot' android feature.

    So, you turn it on... you fire up your new shiny iPad.... you're still consuming way less than your 2GB limit [which you have paid for] - but ... oh... no... I'm sorry - you now owe AT&T $20 a month extra if your continue to do this.

    That is pure greed.

    1. DJ Particle

      @"Forget Unlimited"

      Actually, the $20 is for 2GB of tethered data *in addition* to your 2GB of untethered data, which is where the 4GB in the article comes from.

  27. John Tserkezis

    "...without paying for that service."

    Nice try AT&T, but your customers have already paid for it.

    Why not admit that while you were screwing your customers, you found out that not ALL of them were complete morons.

    "If we don't hear from you, we'll plan to automatically enroll you into DataPro 4GB after March 27, 2011."

    This implies the contract can be changed by the vendor after being signed, without consent of the customer.

    Is there such a thing? If there is, what idiot would sign that open cheque?

    1. Chad H.

      But they haven't Paid for it.

      They paid specifically for handset data useage with the rules clearly not allowing tethering.

      Just because I have a car license doesn't mean I can drive a road train even if it is the same road.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All you can eat

    If I go for 'all you can eat' pizza, that's unlimited - as much pizza as I like. But I'm not allowed to take my family with me, pay for myself and share the pizza with them so that we all get 'all you can eat'. I imagine that's the principle in use here - the data is unlimited, but there's a practical limit imposed by only one person using it.

    1. Clint Sharp

      Nice try but...

      I can eat a shitload of pizza and if you say unlimited it better damn well be unlimited. What the hell does it matter how I consume the data allowance as long as it's only me consuming it?

      1. david wilson

        @Clint Sharp

        >>"What the hell does it matter how I consume the data allowance as long as it's only me consuming it?"

        It matters because *how* a users consumes it significantly determines *how much* they are likely to consume, which in turn feeds back into the cost of providing the service.

        Even if a service is unmetered, that doesn't mean that increased usage by a customer is cost-free to a supplier - if enough people try and milk an unlimited service as far as they can, it ends up putting the price up for everyone.

        The price of an unmetered service in the end comes down to how many people try and take the piss, and how the supplier deals with people who take the piss.

        Ultimately, while people don't like an 'all-you-can' eat place to be stingy with the food, if they saw some greedy fellow customer complaining about the service (or about being refused entry one day) despite having eaten several times what a normal person eats, many of them would be thinking it was the customer that was in the wrong, not the restaurant, and that's in a situation where the 'average greedy':'average normal' consumption ratio still isn't that large (maybe 2:1 or 3:1)

        Sure, it'd be possible to price a phone contract to cover the cost of someone actually using it flat out 24/7, but the price would be eye-watering.

      2. dssf

        Packets can be regurgitated INtact...

        Pizza on an all-you-can-eat deal, taken home like Mamma Birdie takes worms to the nest, would be packed packet regurgitation ENDtact.

        At any rate, i think the real issue the phone carriers have is they claim that tethering a laptop means the consumer consumes MUCH more data over the air than would the phone itself. Still, that is BS. If we buy a modem and tether the laptop to that, how much different is it other than we cannot call or type or text from the modem? Are they worried about the phone burning out? Or that the phone would choke and cause spurious and debilitating diagnostics on the cell net or in the towers?

        If they don't WANT tethering to happen, why not allow it but then make the carriers install a tether lojack to detect tethering, then throttle it at the phone, or at the tower. Wai, they would be found out and sued similar to what is happening to Clear. So, if in the end it is denial and phone-cripping foisted upon the customer, why cannot we sue them anyway?

        In the end, these horses-harses of carriers that block or charge for tethering are just regurging crap and forcing it down our throats.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not quite

      more like 'You can eat an unlimited amount of pizza, but you can't go to the toilet'

  29. rav


    nuff said

  30. Anonymous Coward


    My Android (HTC Desire) came with a Wifi hotspot application pre-installed. I wonder what my mobile network makes of it....

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Right and wrong...

    Henry is in the wrong in that he is in breach of contract and AT&T is in the wrong in that they are charging the consumer twice for the same service, but they hold the high ground because folks like Henry probably signed a contractual agreement.

    Tethering is a feature of the phone, not the provider. A good parallel of this is an old acoustic modem on a bog-standard analog telephone. Is it really any different (aside from the speed) than using your land-line with a modem to access the internet via your PC? The data is already at the smart-phone, it is not like DSL.

    Data is data is data, be it delivered to a device that is tethered to the phone or to the phone itself, it is still data, it is still traveling to the phone. The phone is simply rerouting it to an external device, no additional costs incurred by AT&T, but lots and lots of extra money to be made by fleecing the ignorant consumer who simply signs on the dotted line.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      The problem is provisioning.

      POTS (Plain-Old Telephone Service) was designed with a high level of provision: that is, it can handle lots of calls at the same time. Smart Dialup ISPs also made sure to get lots of lines for its customers. Due to technical and physical restrictions, wireless internet doesn't have the same level of provision.

      Tethering in this case is a bit like a dialup hog who keeps one of the ISP's phone lines tied up 24/7. One of them may not be an issue, but start piling in more people like that and customers will start getting the bane of dialup: the dreaded busy signal. Similarly, wireless phones generally are designed to sip at the available bandwidth--at worst, take the infrequent gulp. Now, tethering may not be the issue so much as HEAVY-DUTY tethering: P2P sharing, video streaming, etc. through the connection. This is the wireless version of the dialup hog. Put enough people on the airwaves like that and what little bandwidth that is available for an area gets used up, and ordinary people just wanting to check their e-mail can't get through.

      That's one reason AT&T doesn't advertise unlimited data plans anymore. They don't want to be held liable for false advertising, and they were among the first to feel the weight of wireless hogs.

  32. corestore

    I don't use tethering...

    ...instead, I use the WiFi hotspot that comes as standard with my Android handset. Nothing hacked or jailbroken. If Telco think they can charge me again for what I already own, they can go whistle.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      er... that is tethering!

      a) this is tethering - so you'd still be in trouble with AT&T

      b) people on this thread still don't get it - forget the unlimited data plan case - AT&T are still coming after you if you are on a standard 2GB plan and are using less than that. If they detect packet re-routing/extra-hop or whatever they will get you

      So all the arguments about Pizza, water, gasoline etc are beside the point. If you try to consume the exact same amount of data that you would normally on your iPhone or HTC Desire or whatever - on your laptop or wi-fi only IPad you are in breach of the contract and they'll come after you for an extra $20 a month. [though I think you end up on a 4gb plan to go with it....]

  33. Gilbert Wham


    My last two Droids here in the UK have done this out of the box, with no extra fees. Data plan is shit, mind.

  34. dshan

    That's (Broken) Capitalism

    Every time I read about the low behaviour of American telcos I shake my head in disbelief, and decide that maybe ours aren't so bad after all (same with banks actually). At least our telcos are mostly content to eat you one digit at a time instead of tearing you limb from limb! Thank God for GSM and MVNOs.

    It really is a case of (deliberately engineered) market failure, thanks to mess of incompatible mobile standards and the almost universal use of obscene lock-in contracts and ridiculous "exclusivity" deals with hardware companies in the Home of Free Enterprise it's difficult for consumers to vote with their feet and go elsewhere. The market is broken, gummed up with sand and monopoly pieces. Time the government stepped in and unleashed the anti-trust dogs, but as the US government is now a wholly owned subsidiary of corporate interests I can't see that happening.

  35. @jporter

    What "service"?

    Exactly what “service" beyond what I already pay for is AT&T providing when I tether my tablet? None. This is a double dip money grab, plain and simple. The fact that they would call attention to the fact that they are monitoring which apps their subscribers are using and how at the same time they're announcing the T-Mobile offer shows they are either incredibly arrogant or incredibly stupid.

  36. Battsman

    Morality vs. Legality

    I would assume that AT&T has their legal ass covered on this one due to the contract. So probably from a legal perspective, they are "in the right."

    However, in the moral sense they <insert invective and defamatory phrase here>. If you charge x for up to 2GB of data a month, then you should be willing to provide up to 2GB of data a month without trying to recoup through weasel fees.

    For the ones arguing that their network can't handle the capacity of providing 2 GB to everyone - that's an invalid argument. They are selling the ability to provide 2GB of service via the contract - if they can't provide it then they are violation of their end of the contract. Basically, they are banking on everyone not using the full amount, but charging everyone for the full amount. If you would like to make the valid argument that they would need to charge everyone more (so they could upgrade their service capabilities) if everyone used 2 GB of service, ok...

    I personally think the tethering by fee only clauses are crap - data is data - they should set a reasonable maximum for typical smart phone useage and charge by some logical quanta for use above and beyond the maximum - no special fees, no other crap - or you get to deal with users that would be fine with seeing your company burn down. I think that is a perfectly legitimate senitment - in fact is a sentiment similar to the way I feel about many airlines in the US and for the same reasons - due to their imcompetence they can't figure out how to charge fares and generate a profit so they have shifted to a profit by fees mentaility. (And they wonder why everyone f'ing despises them like the cock roaches they are.)

    Of course all of the above is predicated on the ASSUMPTION that AT&T's contractual tethering langauge is legal - wouldn't be the first time that a company included illegal provisions in a contract. I'm just hoping a smart lawyer sees something in said contracts and a little thing called a class action suit comes to play. The roof... the roof... the roof is on fire... we don't need no water... let the.....

    1. david wilson


      >>"For the ones arguing that their network can't handle the capacity of providing 2 GB to everyone - that's an invalid argument. They are selling the ability to provide 2GB of service via the contract - if they can't provide it then they are violation of their end of the contract. Basically, they are banking on everyone not using the full amount, but charging everyone for the full amount."

      No, they're providing a service where they work out the price they charge based at least in part on what they expect the average costs to be.

      >>"If you would like to make the valid argument that they would need to charge everyone more (so they could upgrade their service capabilities) if everyone used 2 GB of service, ok..."

      That's effectively the *exact same* argument.

      If you think it's valid to argue that they would have to charge more if they expected everyone to use the maximum, then it logically must be valid to say that the current price was worked out on the assumption of a less-than-maximum average usage.

      That is to say that, effectively, people are *not* being 'charged for the full amount of usage', but charged for an estimated amount which is some fraction of the maximum usage.

      It's certainly possible that making a mistake in the estimates could cost the provider money, and that that would be their problem, but if they've based their estimates on a certain kind of permitted usage, I think they're within their rights morally as well as legally to charge extra for other kinds of usage which they'd explicitly disallowed as part of the standard package.

  37. Andus McCoatover

    Oohh, OVi Store's take!

    Dear oululife,

    We are informing you that we have removed the following comment from your account in Ovi Store:, under my 'nick' of Andus McCoatover in the comments...

    (re. Tethering)

    Does exactly what it says on the tin.

    We have removed the comment since it appears to violate the Ovi Store content guidelines.

    Nokia is committed to providing a safe and fun service for the consumers. Repeated violations of the content guidelines may lead to termination of the account. Please continue to use Ovi Store but please review the Content Guidelines for what is not allowed on the service.

    Thank you,

    Ovi Store Moderation Team

    If you have any questions, feel free to e-mail <>


    My Response



    It means, "It does what it (i.e., the description) says it does."

    No more, no less. i.e., it works!

    I'm suspecting that an English 101 might well be called for.

    As to the rest of my comment, if okay's it, then, as Sara Bee (the moderator) is more strict than the mods. at OVI, I suggest you look again.

    If You have an issue with this, make it plain.

    I await your response.


    ?? If all I said was "it does what it says on the tin" does that make my response Spam??

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