There's been a lot of talk about AT&T's crusade against rogue tethering lately, and it all comes back to this AT&T text message sent to some poor iPhone customer(s):

AT&T Free Msg: We’ve noticed you’re continuing to enjoy the tethering feature with your smartphone service. Remember, you need a tethering plan ($45/mo, incl. 4GB) to use this feature, so we’re planning to update your line with the required plan soon.

Yes, the carrier everyone loves to hate is cracking down on unauthorized tethering - and they are automatically switching violators onto AT&T's 4GB data plan with tethering access, at a steep $45 a month. There's just one little detail it seems some folks are forgetting to mention: there hasn't been a single reported case of this happening to an Android device on AT&T's network. Not one. But why?

Easy Targets

Jailbroken iPhones typically use the same tethering technique as a standard iPhone, the one that's already present in iOS. This method exposes tethering activity quite readily, because the iPhone, when in tethering mode, sends traffic through an alternate APN (AT&T access point/router) for the express purpose of identifying the traffic as tethered data. This makes it extremely easy for AT&T to identify whether or not an iOS device is utilizing tethering, and just how much of their data is consumed via tethering.

Some tethering applications for iOS make use of alternative methods and route tethered traffic through the phone's normal data APN, but by and large, most jailbreakers stick with the stock application because it's easy to use and doesn't require any complicated setup. In fact, many iPhone users jailbreak for the sole purpose of avoiding AT&T's tethering fees (for why, see next section). These are the people AT&T's is going after.

Android tethering, on the other hand, isn't set up to route data through an alternate APN when the phone is in tethering mode - meaning AT&T would actually have to scan packets to determine whether or not you're tethering. This requires diversion of AT&T's resources (read: money), while identifying iPhone tethering is markedly simpler (read: cheap). AT&T's Android device population is also relatively small, while iPhone plans represents a very large chunk of AT&T's total revenue. But that's not the only reason AT&T is sticking it to iPhone users.

Unlimited Must Die

Many iPhone users have been grandfathered in under the special (and no longer offered) Unlimited iPhone Data plan offered by AT&T up until the launch of the iPhone 4 last year. Some are probably even on old Cingular unlimited data plans. AT&T really wants to get them onto tiered plans, because this gets AT&T more cash from subscriptions, and simultaneously reduces load on the network. Evil, but smart.

Jailbroken iPhones on these old plans can, then, tether to their hearts' contents with no worries about usage or bandwidth caps, or pesky overage fees. AT&T, understandably, doesn't like this. The way AT&T sees things, you're getting two services for the price of one - unlimited iPhone data, and an unlimited mobile broadband connection. This is a fair assertion. If you're getting unlimited access to AT&T's network, a laptop tethered to your iThing can chew through the megabytes like nobody's business, and do it far more quickly than you would on your phone's slim mobile browser or email app.

Now, I realize this logic only makes sense applied to unlimited data plans. If you're on AT&T with a 2GB DataPro plan, it seems to me that 2GB of data is two gigabytes of data however you slice it - why does AT&T care how you use it? The argument could be made that the amount of data uploaded or the amount of time with download speeds maxed could be greater when tethering on a laptop - but I still feel like this is a bit of a copout. Regardless, if you're doing a lot of tethering in the first place, it's unlikely you're staying under that 2GB mark (I average about 3.5GB/month).

Why Not Android?

Android users on AT&T, on the other hand, are much more rarely on older AT&T data plans - many have migrated from other carriers, or are first-time smartphone owners. This means they've been on AT&T's capped DataPro plans since day one, and any overages they incur are being charged at a rate of $10/GB. For those who consume less than 3GB of data a month and also use their device to tether, this does present a bit of a conundrum if AT&T ever decides to go after unauthorized Android tethering, maybe forcing someone from $25-$35 a month for data to $45 a month.

There really isn't a lot of incentive for AT&T to go after these people, though - as they aren't mitigating any data usage abuses (if anything, it might cause people to use more data), and they have to work harder to identify these people in the first place. Compare that to the incentives for going after the iPhone users with unlimited plans, and it doesn't make much fiscal sense.

Also, remember: $45 means you get 4GB to use however you want - tethered or not. Compare this to Verizon's tethering and data arrangement of $50 a month for unlimited mobile data and 2GB of tethered data, and it suddenly becomes less clear who the bigger rip-off is.


If there's one thing to take from all this, it's that if you're an Android user and an AT&T customer, you probably don't have to worry about getting auto-switched to the DataPro 4GB with Tethering plan any time soon. AT&T probably (perhaps in characteristic fashion) doesn't care enough about Android users to do anything about it at this point, and may never.

AT&T is attempting to stop the most egregious abusers of unauthorized tethering, and it seems unlikely that the company would want to devote the time and resources to something that probably wouldn't yield much in the way of results (read: money). When Android starts fighting Apple for domination of AT&T's subscriber base, then there may start being cause for concern. But until then, please: don't panic.

David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • makabra

    iPhone 4 Sucks anyway

    • http://www.neisd.web.officelive.com Alex j

      I have an iPhone 4 and it does suck I. Wish I had a new phone

      • Mike

        I have an iPhone 4. Switched to it from an Evo. Love the better battery life, better OS and better hardware. The Evo was a crap phone. My iPhone rocks. Anyone wanna FaceTime?

        • Joe

          That's awesome that Apple comes out with an Apple packaged utilization of an old technology and the fanboys (like "mike" here) try to rub it in everyone's face.

          I've been using Tango for over a year now. It's free and spans multiple platforms. What this means is, I can face chat with anybody I want, not just pompous Ifone fangboys.


    Great article! I Hate Ithings!!! Im and android with the unlimited plan!!! ATT tried to get me to drop my plan but i AINT

  • Jaymoon

    Great analysis. I was wondering this the day the "cracking down on tethering" started making the headlines.

    Since Android is so open, there's a handful of different ways you could go about tethering, so how would the carrier ever know? They could just figure that anyone using X GB of bandwidth each month MUST be tethering, but that's hardly a technical way to determine that, considering each carrier freaks out differently, depending on what X is.

  • Gerg

    Although I disagree that tiering is "evil", the analysis is correct. AT&T is looking out for it's own interests in the age of superphones(especially unlimited data plan ones!).
    However, AT&T should only charge for tethering on unlimited plans, not basic tiered plans. FREE OUR BYTES! We paid for X bits. Let us use it as we see fit!

  • Todd

    I currently have an Ithing because when my crackberry crashed I needed a smartphone and ATT didn't have the android out yet. I will be switching off asap once my contract runs out. I am hoping to keep my grandfathered data plan though :)

  • froyo

    happily tethering on tmobile with no additional charges.

    • frank

      YEA AND after 2 gigs of data on tmobile they will throttle your speed! dont u read the fine print on there commercials? lol

  • John

    I was on a cingular unlimited data plan and bought a captivate off of craigslist. After three months they "Upgraded" my plan for me via text.

  • Asphyx

    While I agree about the ease of detecting on iPhone the reports regarding Android are all tied to the Gingerbread releases.

    P3Droid who was one of the first to point this out (and taken a lot of undeserved heat as the messenger) has said that there may be some code in Gingerbread that will allow them to track tethering where they could not before and that it was best to stay away from it until it could be further looked into and verified.

  • Dave

    I have the grandfathered plan on an iphone, however I do not tether with it, but i will use as much data as I want no matter who likes it, they offered me the plan with a contract, so that is not my problem, so get over it already! Blame them for offering the plans to start with and locking people in to a 2 year contract!


    You're wrong, they ARE targeting Android users. They turned off my data completely after I received the text message about tethering! I had an iPhone a year and a half ago and switched to an Android. I believe they are targeting former iPhone users as well, my father who is also a former iPhone user also was receiving this message on his HTC Inspire. I was receiving this text message at all hours of the night and I called them to find out why I was getting this message because I was NOT tethering! They accused me of lying and said that I was swapping my SIM card into another phone AND tethering.
    a$$holes... luckily this was when Verizon was offering unlimited data so I left AT&T. Thankfully I was out of contract!

  • http://twitter.com/benmarvin Ben Marvin

    The best AT&T can do is block tethering apps from the Market, but if you're rooted and tethering, that can't stop us from tethering.

    Meanwhile I'm on T-Mobile, which doesn't seem to give a shit about unauthorized tethering, they slap you with slower speeds after 5GB.

    • Asphyx

      I guess you don't understand how the network works.
      They can shut down your data anytime they want to. They won't, they would rather charge you the money.

      When you see it on your bill then you will figure it out.

      • Button Boy

        When AT&T decides to modify my unlimited data plan, it will give me rights to terminate immediately without any ETFs.

    • Joedoeing006

      Im rooted and they can't stop my tethering but can still change my plan from unlimited to the 5gb plan like they are threatening.

  • Mark

    Currently tethering on T-Mobile G2 worry free. :D

  • http://www.sunstatecarriers.com bob

    I hate anybody that hates Apple or any iDevice.

    If you hate Apple please in the privacy of your own home F U C K Y O U R S E L F

    • Michael Burke


  • http://xda Mapobean

    This is now applying to Android users. I just found out that using a Bluetooth device to listen to streaming music (IE headphones or car stereo) is considered wireless tethering. This sounds absurd but I was on the phone with ATT for hours to find out why i was getting these messages. They told me it was due to me listening to Pandora through wireless headphones using Bluetooth.

    Please comment

  • DC

    Yes android is being targeted!

  • sc

    It is VERY important to note that I have received a letter from AT&T attempting to auto upgrade my grandfathered unlimited data plan AND I am running android. (Liberated 2.2 Froyo with S-ON) ***Please be aware that AT&T is now going after android users!*** I do not know if my version of android used the isp.* or wap.* access point for tethering but I would assume that it was going through the standard phone data access point. I think they just made an assumption based on the amount of data I used. (I have since upgraded my phone to gingerbread 2.3 with S-OFF by Cyanogenmod, ver. 7 with Revolutionary)

  • Al

    I have an android and I use easytether. I got an email today about them switching me to a tethering plan. I don't know how they know. I use it to for schoolwork on my laptop while on the road. I heard PDANet had a way to switch something off to not get recognized. Is this true.

  • Bentmassive

    Quick question for anyone that might be tech savvy enough to know- I've got an Atrix, At&t has just recently upgraded it's network in our N. AL community from 2.5G to 4G. Never upgraded to Gingerbread because I wanted to keep my ability to use the Atrix's free mobile hotspot/tether apn hack. Sounds like this may be the same method that is so simple for At&t to pick up on, as I also have an "unlimited" data plan. Can anyone tell me if indeed this is making me an easy target- if my data was to spike say over 5 Gb/ month? If so perhaps I should try the new PDAnet w/ the "hide user" option?? Any feedback would be greatly appreciated, Thanks BM

  • MagicStallion

    Yes, you will get cought. I am grandfathered from Cingular and got the text, letter & E-mail Im currently using an Atrex as well. The best I have heard of to avoid detection is PDANet from june fabrics, as it has a setting desined to block access to tethering usage to att.
    Mp plan has not changed yet but Im keeping my eye on it.

  • kim187

    AT&T and their legal team are simply horrible creatures of the night. Never thought I'd say this but hi-five to the FCC for player-hatin'. I think I have a workaround, and it's called regulation. haha j/k but i do have a plan...


    yes pdanet does let you hide ... within your own networks data stream ... very schweet!! they give you 3 options on most phones... 1) enable tether 2) enable bluetooth dun or 3) enable wifi ... option 3 takes you to market place for another app that runs in conjunction w pdanet which effectively turns ur phone into a hotspot ... ive had 3 laptops & an ipod running off my lg otimus at once!! thanks june fabrics!! GET PDANET NOW WHILE STILL AVAILABLE & CURRENTLY ON SALE FOR $15.95 FOR LIFETIME LICENSE ... TRANSFER YOUR LICENSE # FROM ANDROID PHONE TO ANDROID PHONE ADD LIMITLESS PC'S ... ALSO AVAILABLE FOR OTHER PHONES ... GO CHECK IT OUT NOW!!!

  • Sam Bingner

    The "Native software using Tethering APN" part of this post is completely wrong.  If they attempted to do that, it would be identical to the stock tethering to the extent that it would NOT WORK.

    TetherMe, MyWi, ANYTHING that allows tethering without a plan routes it over the Data APN.  If it used the other, the phone would not allow it to be transmitted without authorization from AT&T.

    Spreading complete crap like this without doing any research is very bothersome because then people ask "Why are you using the Tethering APN????" in support emails etc.  Do a little research before posting BS.

    - Sam Bingner

  • Drock

    Ok first before i get slammed for being an owner of an iphone 4s i would like to say two things i have owned many android phones and loved them but im no more limited on my jailbroken iphone then i was on android and second is facetime maybe iphone to iphone but alternative multi platform apps exist on the iphone as well allowing video communication between android iphone and others... Now to the point of this article i would like to add my experience to the disscusion because in multiple articals and discussions it has been continually stated that iphones are the target or androids are the target which and as of a lack of black white evidence i will say in my opinion and have only seen this mentioned a couple of times no "phone" is the target the unlimited data is the target now my opinion was steered this way due to my personal experience of not being grandfathered in to att's udp i have been on the tiered plan since i returned to att. With my androids i used easy tether for months with several GB monthly and now with my iphone and pdanet have been maxing my 3Gb plan or exceeding for three months and have not received warnings from att although i have noticed at max plan my bandwith drops drastically tested with speedtest.net but i dont beleive anything but the unlimited plans are the target and just a note i use pdanet hide lvl1 so my pages dont display as mobile have not usedlvl2 ever