External Ethernet support coming to Microsoft Surface RTs

External Ethernet support coming to Microsoft Surface RTs

Summary: Official support for external Ethernet adapters for Surface RT tablets is coming, according to sources close to the company.


From the "there's good news and bad news" department, here are a couple of updates about Microsoft's Surface RT.


Let's start with the bad. (Just because there's been so little bad news on the Surface RT front, as of late. Ahem.)

If you were one of those people who managed to get an Ethernet dongle working with your ARM-bsed Surface RT, you've probably since discovered that it no longer works. Ethernet adapters continue to work with the Intel-based Surface Pro. But on the Surface RT, you're out of luck.

Reader "Tonyman262" posted to a Microsoft forum about how he managed to get Ethernet adapters working with the Surface RT. He also noted that Pluggable, one of the adapter makers, was asked by Microsoft to remove the supporting Surface RT drivers.

So will Windows RT 8.1 fix this issue? After all, if the Surfaces RT is a "productivity tablet," as the Softies are now saying, shouldn't Ethernet connectivity be part of the platform?

Seemingly, no. Not only is there no current support, but there is no external Ethernet support in Windows RT 8.1 (at least in the preview), according to Windows SuperSite's Paul Thurrott.

I asked Microsoft whether external Ethernet support for Windows RT was in the works, and was told the company had nothing to say at this time.

However -- and here comes the good news -- dependable sources of mine close to Microsoft say external Ethernet support is, indeed, in the works for Surface RT. Right now there aren't any external Ethernet dongles that support Connected Standby, the Windows 8 feature that provides instant-on/off whenever network connections are available. But that supposedly is going to change, I hear, possibly as a result of work being done by Microsoft and its hardware partners.

I haven't heard a specific release date for external Ethernet support for Surface RT, but I wouldn't be surprised if an Ethernet dongle for Surface RT is one of the Surface "accessories" Microsoft is promising for its fiscal 2014, meaning some time between now and June 2014.

Before anyone asks: I don't know if/when Microsoft will enable LTE support in its Surface Pro or RT hardware. It's a possibility and frequently requested feature. 

Meanwhile, here's a little more good news for those in the education space who are interested in the Surface RT. I asked a Microsoft spokesperson about a recent Microsoft blog post that hinted that the company's educational offer, via which Surface RTs could be bought for $199 each by qualifying schools (not individual students), was being extended beyond the end of August 2013, to the end of September.

The reply:

"In June, we announced a one-time offer for Surface RT that starts at $199 for qualifying education institutions, valid for all K-12 and universities purchasing from Microsoft. Thanks to great customer interest, we are thrilled to share that this special offer to education institutions will continue until the end of September. Microsoft has a long tradition of supporting education institutions, and this offer is intended to get Surface in the hands of even more educators and students."

And in case you missed the news over the weekend, Microsoft is cutting Surface Pro prices by $100 in the U.S., Canada, China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. That deal runs through the month of August.

Topics: Microsoft Surface, IT Priorities, Microsoft, Networking, Tablets


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • USB Ethernet works on a lot more than just the Surface Pro...

    Any Android phone or tablet that supports USB OTG (which is, most of them, including the Nexus 7) works with USB - Ethernet dongles.

    In fact, humorous tidbit - when the first gen Nexus 7 was announced at Google I/O (where the 2.4Ghz WiFi was beyond slammed) they set up the demo units with USB - Ethernet adapters.

    Still inexcusable that Microsoft is making it so hard to use Ethernet on the RT.
    • Good point re: USB dongles

      I will update the post to reflect that. Thanks MJ
      Mary Jo Foley
    • dcarr622...inexcusable that Microsoft is making it so hard to use Ethernet

      The real question is.....how did they miss it in the first place.....

      What could they have had on their minds to begin with?

      Is it too little ....... to late to try and save RT?

      I think Microsoft has egg on its face with RT Introduction and they have to get it right some how......

      Surface RT was a good idea poorley executed.....
      Over and Out
      • never understood

        Why Ethernet is so important for a tablet like the RT or iPad or an Android tablet.
        Michael Alan Goff
        • But you do not have to understand it

          What is seemingly significant is that this issue is important to others and they no longer have the capability - and so they are reasonably entitled to be annoyed about that.
          • I'm not saying they shouldn't put it in

            I'm just voicing my opinion.
            Michael Alan Goff
        • Lack of wireless

          IF there is a lack of wireless connectivity, there is no choice but to use Ethernet.

          At work, I can use Ethernet or I can set up a mobile hotspot from my smartphone and VPN into the corporate network over a 64kbps "3G" signal - the signal is very weak here and rarely gets above GPRS speeds.

          With my Windows 8 tablet and desktop dock, I can call up web sites and email instantly, over "wifi", it takes several minutes and I only have 1GB of data on the mobiel contract.
          • That makes sense

            I hadn't thought of a use case when people would use a Tablet without WiFi. I can see how that wouldn't be an ideal situation in a work environment, though than also leads to the idea that I didn't know people were buying the RT for their business.
            Michael Alan Goff
          • Not just RT

            the same applies to Windows 8 tablets, Ultrabooks and laptops without Ethernet (increasingly common), MacBook Air, MacBook Pro Retina etc.
        • Gadgety

          Well, I guess that's Microsoft's understanding as well. Then again, RT isn't really selling, is it. So Msft has to learn what the market wants by the feedback it is getting.
          • Good point

            Maybe this is a good sign, the fact than Microsoft is adding in something they probably didn't intend in the first place.
            Michael Alan Goff
        • Because Microsoft never envisioned that ...

          ... the Surface RT would be anything more than a consumer device. (Remember, Microsoft does not really know how to market to consumers.)

          What Microsoft did not anticipate is that in the enterprise the Surface RT is an attractive alternative to the iPad.

          In the enterprise the density of devices is so high that it becomes difficult to provide enough wireless bandwidth to service all devices at once. Wireless then is reserved for meetings only.
          M Wagner
        • Not everybody broadcasts their network

          Ethernet is so important for a tablet like the RT because some companies don't broadcast their network. They only make it available via Ethernet connections.
          Tim Jordan
      • I like how Apple does ethernet on the ipad

        Beginning with the original iPad.
        William Farrel
    • I suspect it is a power issue

      My guess is that Microsoft doesn't want any drivers on that platform that will cost too much in terms of power (for a discussion of this, you can take a look at the old Sinofsky "Building Windows 8" blog).

      Hence Mary Jo's inclusion of "connected standby" in her discussion above.

      Of course, this is just a guess on my part. I must say that WiFi is *much* more important than connected ethernet to me.
      • it is a power issue

        It's not just your guess, almost month ago Rafael Rivera came to the same conclusions:
      • Power is an issue but so is performance

        The Surface RT provides both 2.4GHz and 5GHz radios in order to insure the cleanest connectivity even in high-density areas. This eats up more power but provides the best user experience (short of a direct Ethernet connection).
        M Wagner
  • I Need This Support!

    I bought a Plugable Ethernet adapter a few weeks ago only to discover Microsoft forced them to pull the driver off their site, as Mary Jo mentioned. I then proceeded to find it elsewhere and install it. Unfortunately, they've effectively blocked the driver from running in the 8.1 RT preview so for now I stuck without Internet on my Surface at work because I can't get the required certificate. I was able to do it by exporting from my desktop, but it doesn't seem to want to do it in 8.1.
    • Isn't the certificate something

      You should address to your IT department?
      • Not Supported

        Windows RT is not supported by my IT right now and you have to be on the network in order to get the certificate required to see the WiFi connection. I got around this it Win8, but what I did isn't working in Win8.1.