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Analysis: Why is AT&T late on MMS, tethering for iPhone 3G S?

Billing issues might explain tethering delay, systems upgrades for no MMS

June 9, 2009 03:39 PM ET

Computerworld - When it comes to the Apple Inc. iPhone, users want a lot of things. Among those things on their wish lists are MMS support and tethering that would allow them to use the devices to connect a laptop to the Internet wirelessly. Although both are possible on the upcoming iPhone 3G S, AT&T -- the exclusive iPhone carrier in the U.S. -- doesn't yet offer tethering and won't deliver on multimedia messaging until later this summer.

Which raises this question: What's taking AT&T so long?

The delays in offering both features, which are available on other networks, brought jeers from the developers attending the unveiling of the new iPhone 3G S yesterday at Apple's Worldwide Developer's Conference (WWDC). Not surprisingly, heated comments quickly mounted online.

And today, Free Press, a Washington-based nonpartisan group devoted to universal access to the Internet, issued a statement saying AT&T's delay is "impeding innovation instead of promoting it."

Chris Riley, policy counsel at Free Press, called on Congress to make illegal the kind of exclusive deals AT&T has with Apple Inc. with the iPhone. "We cannot afford to allow AT&T or any other company to stand in the way of progress," Riley said in a statement.

MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) is a way to send photos, video and other types of digital media over a wireless network; tethering is a means of attaching a wireless device such as an iPhone to a laptop via a cable or Bluetooth and using the device as a wireless modem.

Mark Siegel, a spokesman for AT&T Mobility, expounded a bit more in an interview today about why both MMS and tethering have been delayed.

"The why on MMS is absolutely unrelated our 3G network," Siegel said in a telephone interview. "It has to do with internal systems upgrades and we want to have those ready before we offer MMS. We want to let customers know that the delay is unrelated to our network."

MMS will be available by the end of the summer, he repeated.

"With tethering, we will offer a plan for that and just have not said when yet," Siegel said. "I can tell you that both are a matter of when and not if."

Siegel, who had no more to add, declined to respond to the concerns raised by Free Press or others who have speculated about why AT&T is delaying both services.

Analysts widely believe that the delays are both because of the AT&T systems supporting the technology, if not because of the actual 3G network itself, and how prepared AT&T is to handle billing for the services, since it might lose out on revenues for broadband aircards now sold for laptops.

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