The tethering police are coming, unroot your phones

The tethering police are coming, unroot your phones

Summary: Those who jailbreak or root your phone to allow free tethering better be ready. The tethering police are coming, and they know who you are.

TOPICS: Mobility, Wi-Fi

AT&T has begun contacting smartphone customers who are using the mobile hotspot feature of phones without paying for the AT&T service. These customers are primarily iPhone owners who have jailbroken the phones to allow using the phone as a mobile hotspot, without paying AT&T for the privilege. That free ride is over, and most likely other carriers will follow AT&T's lead, so those who jailbreak or root your phone to allow such tethering better be ready. The tethering police are coming, and they know who you are.

One of the greatest events in mobile broadband history was the invention of the mobile hotspot. The ability to use a wireless phone connection to get multiple devices onto the web was a big move forward for mobile users. Carriers were quick to pick up on the value of mobile hotspots, and began offering, or rather allowing, customer phones to act as wireless modems for laptops and other devices. This came with a monthly fee to cover the additional bandwidth mobile hotspot users were grabbing. Intrepid wireless customers were quick to find ways around this official (read: billed) mobile hotspot service, on most every smartphone platform.

While Apple has only recently added the mobile hotspot feature to the iPhone, Android smartphone owners have enjoyed that feature since version 2.2 (Froyo) of the OS. Mobile hotspot, or tethering in Android parlance, still requires the permission of the carrier, usually at a monthly service fee of $20-$30. This mobile hotspot service is often capped, subjecting the user to potential overage fees if used heavily. This is one of the reasons (besides the belief that such service should be free) that owners have used to justify rooting or jailbreaking the phones to allow tethering outside the carrier's observation.

This move by AT&T to turn off the tethering tap is significant for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, the carrier is making it crystal clear to customers that it can tell who is using the unauthorized tethering. Users have long felt that the carrier cannot tell when they are using such tethering, but AT&T begs to differ. Secondly, AT&T is not moving to punish those who have been tapping the network for free, they are satisfied with automatically (with no customer approval) adding the tethering service to the customer's account. You tether, you pay, is what the carrier is saying loudly and clearly.

The action by AT&T will almost certainly be copied by other carriers, given the rollout of 4G service by most. Whether you agree with the 4G terminology used by the carriers, the fact is connection speeds are on the increase, so tethering multiple devices to one mobile connection has the potential to use lots of bandwidth. I'm not defending the carriers, but if they were disposed to charge for tethering before, they are certainly champing at the bit to charge now with faster connection speeds.

So get ready all of you unauthorized tetherers, the tethering police are watching, and will be coming for you before long. While most carriers will be happy to simply roll you over to the paid service like AT&T, the fact is such usage is a breach of contract and they could just cut you off. This would be done without warning too, so it may be time to unroot those phones.

Image credit: Flickr user OregonDOT

Topics: Mobility, Wi-Fi

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  • RE: The tethering police are coming, unroot your phones

    One thing before Android, people were doing the same with Windows Mobile using programs such as WiFiRouter, which don't need your device to do rooting or Cooked Up ROM by visiting XDA.
    Ram U
    • RE: The tethering police are coming, unroot your phones

      @Rama.NET : are you implying that same sort of thing is possible with iphones? Inquiring minds....
      • RE: The tethering police are coming, unroot your phones

        With iPhone you have to JB it to use your unlimited data plan to tether and with Android you have to root it first, where as with Windows Mobile 6.5, 6.1 and 5.0 you don't have to, just install WiFiRouter or similar program, btw, most of them are free and you could use it. Also it is not required to install any cooked rom to enable it in Windows Mobile.
        Ram U
      • RE: The tethering police are coming, unroot your phones

        @Rama.NET : are you sure you need to root Android? I believe it can be used as a WiFi hotspot without rooting it. There's an app called "Quick Settings" that allows you to do this with one click.
      • RE: The tethering police are coming, unroot your phones

        I know about that app and the connectivity with it is not that reliable and UnEVOked messes up if you don't want to fully root and install good wifi routers.
        Ram U
    • RE: The tethering police are coming, unroot your phones

      @Rama.NET this is correct, also possible with Symbian OS. Been using it for years.
      • RE: The tethering police are coming, unroot your phones

        Yes, and that time AT&T never bothered to bother me. :D
        Ram U
      • RE: The tethering police are coming, unroot your phones

        @max_wedge The moral is you should buy the phone that has the features you want (ie the "Best" phone for you), rather than buying the cool phone and then hacking it to get the features it should have in the first place.
    • RE: The tethering police are coming, unroot your phones


      To tether an Android it is not required to permroot an android. It is not necessary to use any special Rom. (And ROM are very useful (In my opinion) to try different things.) I do not understand what you mean by "cooked".
      If any one wants to tether, all they are required to do is click on the market shortcut. Search for visionary. Click install. In the settings of the phone select programs from other sources to be enabled. Also disable fastboot. Turn off the phone and turn it on. Once the phone is turned on, open visionary and enable try temproot now. It is that simple. There are n number of youtobe videos that shows this procedure step by step. This procedure is considered a very low risk procedure. However, permroot and installing new ROM may require more expertise. I know there is no point in writing about all these in this forum. And I don't understand why people are still tied to these services that curtail their services. It is your phone. You pay for the services. Tell yourselves that I will decide what I would or would not do with my phone. If the service provide has a problem, go elsewhere. There are plenty others who offer pretty cheap and better service. Honestly, even if you have to pay to get out of a contract it is worth it.
      • RE: The tethering police are coming, unroot your phones

        Why I said cooked is because there are some Android devices that have less memory and can't be stable once you start tethering you device to more than one device. In those cases you have to use cooked ROM to free up your device from the carrier and manufacturers' bloatware. I hate most of the offerings from majority of carriers and OEMs. Of course some of them are really good like Samsung Car Home, HTC Footprints etc, but most of them are useless crapware. Thats the reason I said cooked ROM, otherwise I know there are few alternates to have WIFI tethering on Android like UnEVOked etc.
        Ram U
      • RE: The tethering police are coming, unroot your phones

        Bought my Samsung, plugged in the charger, Settings --> Wireless and network --> Mobile AP
    • RE: The tethering police are coming, unroot your phones

      What you do with your phone is essentially your business. Rooted phones enjoy much much more ability than just tethering, and my android phone is indeed rooted. Do I tether? No. Mostly because despite the fact AT&T offers 2GB, It's just as easy for me to do much the same things on my phone without hooking it to my laptop and risk chugging a quarter of my monthly quota up just to check my email. Yes, computers are that data hungry and on any typical system once you install a proper antivirus, and browser, I wouldn't doubt for a minute that it's easy to spot unauthorized tethering by simply inspecting packets, mostly because computers also tend to send out packets and leave ports open that no handset would. XD<br><br>Still, most of my usage is tame compared to most. Though if AT&T ever did silently opt me in to such a plan for choosing to tether, I'd probably terminate and call it a breach of contract. (Fortunately they have been texting, and emailing customers who they see this activity from and giving them a chance: "Stop tethering now, or continue tethering and we WILL opt you into a tethering plan". Is this fair? Not entirely in my opinion, but we're stuck with this behavior until the FCC grows a pair. :/
      • RE: The tethering police are coming, unroot your phones

        @ZazieLavender "What you do with your phone is essentially your business."<br>I would have thought that as before, but I think the PS3 fiasco is spilling over into the other business models. It's become it's mine and if you modify, I'll sue. Best to start boycott buying from these companies and remind who is really in charge, the customer.
      • RE: The tethering police are coming, unroot your phones

        @ZazieLavender This is what I don't understand. AT&T caps data at 2GB or whatever you buy. If you burn through that 2GB because you are tethering to your computer to download torrents then you are going to run out of data. What you do with data in a capped plan should be your business. I could understand why t-mobile might have a problem with it because they still offer unlimited plans which while not really unlimited, are not capped until you hit much higher ceiling.
    • Where are the bandwidth police?

      In the 90's, anyone with a backhoe followed the Williams Pipeline model and ran dark fiber in every ditch that was dug, leading to a plethora of cheap bandwidth and a multitude of services wrapped around it. The investors understood that "dark fiber" means unlimited bandwidth, as Moore's law provided a steady stream of technology-driven bandwidth upgrades by replacing the equipment at each end of the connection over time.

      The cost per megabit of bandwidth has plummeted as a result, sparking open use and limitless growth of the internet.

      So why is it, that cellular technology, using the same infrastructure, is headed in the opposite direction? Who didn't get the memo?

      Even as far back as 10 years ago, data plans were expensive, complicated, and capped. This has arguably hampered smartphone adoption until just recently, setting us back 10 years on the mobile internet progress front.

      Cellular providers, please understand: YOU ARE ALL ABOUT 18 MONTHS FROM BEING REPLACED BY THE NEXT WIFI STANDARD.

      With this dollars-and-quarters business model (much more expensive than nickel-and-dime), your customers will ONLY put up with you as long as they need you, and not one billing cycle longer.

      As soon as handsets evolve beyond cellular networks, we can start to benefit (again) from all of that cheap bandwidth -- just as home broadband drove adoption of desktop internet 10 years ago.
      • RE: The tethering police are coming, unroot your phones

        You actually touched on the very problem.
        We do have tons of fiber, but you can't just dig up more radio spectrum. Since a large part of the usable spectrum has already been allocated from cellular service, the carriers are having to squeeze more and more bandwidth into the same number of channels.
        The only item I have seen in the last couple of years that offers any good chance for a spurt in bandwidth is an announcment I saw from Lucent for a new cellular tranceiver that gets both common spectra on a single integrated antenna, and is small enough to be placed in common areas like the tops of bus kiosks. If they can hook them into the miles of fiber around most metro areas so that they can cover smaller cells without haveing to do box-to-box routing, then I can see a big advantage.
  • RE: The tethering police are coming, unroot your phones

    This shows that there is a very sound case for capped data plans. But actually give the user a better choice of data allowances.<br>Then, who cares how they use their data, as long as they dont go over their cap, then they should be allowed to tether, as data is data, if your a heavy user for streaming videos on your phone, or a light user doing a bit of tethered browsing each month, if you use XGB per month, does it matter how you use it. <br><br>I know every one wants unlimited data, but then I wouldnt mind unlimited text and voice, but the reality is that I wouldnt not use that much, so why cant I just pay for what I do use
    Will T
    • RE: The tethering police are coming, unroot your phones

      @Will T : I pay extra for the unlimited plan I have. Even if that wasn't the case, if I had a capped plan, why does AT&T or any other carrier for the fact, care how I use my data? If I go over, they will happily charge me for it... so whats the big deal if I use it for tethering or not.....
      Mr. Byte
      • RE: The tethering police are coming, unroot your phones

        @Mr. Byte : It's more than just the amount of data consumed, it's the bandwidth being taken up. Tethering at 2am when very few people are actively on the network is a lot different than tethering through peak hours when hundreds of people may be trying (and possibly failing) to connect on maxed out towers.

        i'm definitely not sticking up for carriers finding new and improved ways to restrict and screw customers, but i think the active load is more the issue than the amount of data moved. The caps are set with an average use in mind, where if you're a typical user, you won't reach your cap in the first 3 days of the month. If you are hitting the cap, it means you're soaking up a lot of bandwidth all month long.

        Frankly, if the network is reliable enough and speeds fast enough, i'd switch to a paid tether subscription so i could cancel my slower land connection.
      • why they care ...

        @Mr. Byte you probably already understand this.. but in case not ... the reason *they* care is the cost of such service. Easy seen by comparison.. when you go to the movie theaters ... pop corn is 6 dollars a bucket. You and I know that for 2 dollars, we can by a 6 pk of microwave popcorn, which would produce 2 of the movie theater's "bucket" sized ones. So why is the movie theater charging soo much? Because they use the profits from popcorn sales (and other items they sell) to make their money since they supposedly don't make enough from the price of the movie ticket.

        So apply that to phones and data plans. If you're paying 99 dollars a month for an "unlimited" plan ... and you use only 100 cellular minutes, and say 1 gig of data.. you are not costing the cellular carrier as much to service as the guy that uses 900 cellular minutes and 6 gigs of data. So to "spread the pain" or "cost" of having the service, the carrier maintains a higher price for all users up to that "point" that they arbitrarily set as good enough to make money from, and not cost the company in servicing.

        Now add the tether issue ... if they charge you an additional 20 dollars on top to tether, with the same data cap, then they are making a huge profit on "you" since you only use it for 100m/1G ... and also recouping some of the extra from that guy doing 900m/6Gig.

        In the end it all comes down to what the market will bear. If you can't afford the 99 dollars plus 20 .. then you'll stop tethering and make the cellular company take you off that plan. Alternatively you'll find another carrier and tell your "over priced glutanous pig cell phone company" to go Fk themselves. :) which is why I use Virgin Mobile :)

        25 / 40 / 60 = 300 / 1200 / unlimted voice minutes
        all with unlimited data (not tether persistant)

        For someone that uses a tether sparingly ... the 25 for 300 voice minutes suits me just fine ... and I have an app from my VOIP provider for anything I might need above that 300 mins. Granted the down side.. I pay nearly full price for a phone but have no contract requirement either. Its a very very good model for light users. And I think that's part of our problem as a society ... chatter boxes when we don't need to be, on cellular.