After some confusion, Microsoft has made it clear that the initial release of Windows Phone 7, expected within weeks, will not provide any way to allow other devices to use it to connect to the wireless networks. In an exchange of tweets, Patrick Neighorn, who handles Windows Phone PR for Waggener Edstrom, said that the first batch of phones will support neither tethering nor Wi-Fi hot spot technology.Previously, Microsoft had suggested that tethering would be at the carriers’ option.
Tethering isn’t much of a loss. The very notion of a “tethered modem” is depressingly 20th century, and I have never been able to figure out why iPhone fans devoted so much energy to getting Apple to add it and then for AT&T belatedly to support it. I have used my AT&T BlackBerry Bold 9700 as a tethered modem (the name is something of a misnomer since the actual link is over Bluetooth) and while it works, it isn’t especially pleasant. The real challenge was getting it set up in the first place. Setup is especially daunting on Windows, where the details on how it is done depends on which of at least three different Bluetooth stacks your laptop uses.
Google and Palm both made the right choice by ditching tethering in favor of mobile hot spot supports. Android and webOS handle this in essentially the same way. You open a hot spot app and, for the initial setup you assign it an SSID (the name it will broadcast an a Wi-Fi access point) and a password. After that, you just start the app to fire up the access point (Android annoyingly reminds me each time I do this that hot spot use will drain the battery; it’s best to connect to a power source, which can be a USB port.) You connect a laptop, iPad, or any other Wi-Fi device that you want to use by entering the SSID and password, just as you would for any Wi-Fi AP.
The hot spot approach has enormous advantages over tethering. Initial setup is easy and subsequent use is all but automatic. And it can provide connectivity to multiple devices at the same time. It’s especially important for the iPad, which lacks the dial-up networking software (yes, that’s really what it is called) needed to use a tethered connection. With a hot spot-capable phone at hand, my Wi-Fi only iPad easily becomes 3G-enabled.
Leaving tethering out of a brand new smart phone operating system was the right call, but the failure to support hot spot technology is a disappointment. Smartphones are emerging as the center of our mobile connected lives. If Microsoft wants to be a serious player, they should look to give Windows Phone 7 hot spot capability really soon.