Home Your IT Mobility Why the iPhone SHOULD be a modem

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The current 2G model iPhone can’t officially be tethered to a notebook and then used as a wireless Internet connection, although hacker extraordinaire Nate True figured out how to do it anyway some time ago. But despite arguments that the iPhone’s data plan explains why it currently isn’t an official tethered modem, such arguments are nonsense: it’s my iPhone and I should be able to use it as a modem if desired, even if it costs me more money.

iTWire’s editor, Stan Beer, wrote an article earlier today titled ‘I need a 3G iPhone and a cheap sub-notebook’, which was followed up some time later by iTWire colleague Stephen Withers who proceeded to explain ‘Why an iPhone isn’t a modem’. 

Of course the iPhone IS a modem, or rather, has one inside. It wouldn’t be able to surf the web, do email, bring up Google Maps or let you watch YouTube videos otherwise.

Stephen went on to explain that while 2G iPhone has an ‘unlimited’ data plan, this was able to be prised from the carriers' grasp by Apple because data accessed through the iPhone was only ever meant to be used on the iPhone itself, and not wirelessly or through the iPhone’s USB cable with any other device.

The explanation is that the iPhone already uses large amounts of data. Let people use it as a wireless modem with their computers, and that data usage will go up exponentially – something carriers didn’t want to happen, especially when their plans were nominally ‘unlimited’.

The fact that the iPhone’s unlimited data plan (which isn’t strictly unlimited anyway, depending on which country you’re using an official iPhone in) wasn’t meant to be used with other devices doesn’t mean the iPhone can’t be used in this manner.

iBrickr creator Nate True showed how to do it months ago (while warning AT&T and other official providers might get very upset if they found out), although whether the slightly complex hack still works with the latest 1.1.3 and 1.1.4 iPhone firmware versions is unknown.

Virtually every other relatively smart 2G, 3G or 3.5G mobile phone can be tethered, via USB cable or using Bluetooth, to PCs and Macs. When used in this manner, wireless Internet access can be quite expensive – unless you are signed up to a mobile data plan.

In Australia, 3 Mobile went to market with an AUD $20 per month plan giving 500MB of downloads (with uploads counted towards the download limit), a $30 per month plan giving 1GB of data and $40 per month plan giving 2GB of data on X-Series compatible phones (which included phones such as the Nokia N95, the LG Shine and a range of others).

Even Australia’s dominant telco, Telstra, has a $59.95 monthly plan offering 400MB of data, a $89.95 monthly plan offering 1GB of data and a $114.95 monthly plan offering 3GB of data – with those prices available for PCMCIA/Expresscard and USB modems, or when using your existing 3G/3.5G mobile phone as a tethered modem. While these prices are expensive, they are much cheaper than the regular ‘casual’ pay-as-you-go wireless data plans.

So, why can’t Apple and their telco partners offer the same kind of deals to those who want it, or let users pay whatever the (likely expensive) ‘casual’ rate for wireless data? Please read onto page 2.


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

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One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks, including stints as presenter of Ch 10’s Internet Bright Ideas, Ch 7’s Room for Improvement and tech expert on Ch 9’s Today Show, among many other news and current affairs programs.