iPhone tethering could prove a boon to IT managers

IT exec says Apple added important feature; its cost is up to AT&T and other carriers

Of the more than 100 new features announced as part Apple Inc.'s iPhone 3.0 software this week, Jorge Mata, CIO for the Los Angeles Community College District, said that one of those alone -- the ability to tether Windows laptops to the iPhone -- could provide a quick boost to his users.

Mata said the updated software, once it's available, should give the 200 iPhone users on the college's staff the ability to transform the device into a modem. That could enable him to replace the $60-a-month air cards now installed on the laptops of those users.

"The most compelling enterprise feature [in iPhone 3.0] is the tethering capability," Mata said in an e-mail to Computerworld. "This would replace the need to issue mobile broadband cards to our phone users."

Scott Forstall, Apple's senior vice president of iPhone software, said that while tethering is built into the iPhone 3.0 software, it's up to network carriers to implement it.

Van Baker, an analyst at Gartner Inc., said that it's too soon to predict how AT&T Inc., the exclusive U.S. iPhone carrier, will use the tethering feature and whether and how much it would charge for it. "It's likely AT&T will implement tethering, but it won't be totally free," Baker said. "Why would any carrier do it for free?"

Baker added that free tethering will suddenly cut sales of air cards, which would affect revenues at AT&T and the 25 other iPhone carriers in 80 countries outside the U.S.

AT&T declined to discuss its plans for the tethering feature.

In its press release announcing iPhone 3.0 and in its online video demonstration, Apple touted "the ability for apps to interface with hardware accessories, creating a whole new element of control for iPhone and iPod Touch accessory developers as well as a new ecosystem of solutions for customers."

And a demonstration in the Apple video showed how a cable could be used to connect a LifeScan meter, which monitors blood sugar levels of diabetics, to an iPhone. About halfway through the 90-minute demo, the data from the LifeScan device is read onto the iPhone via the cable, where it populates historical spreadsheets. From there, Apple said in the demonstration, the data will be sent wirelessly to a doctor.

Mata remains hopeful that the capability will be offered for free or at a modest charge, noting that the iPhone is becoming increasingly popular among users at the college. "Our users of iPhones don't just find them useful, they describe their relationships with the technology as being in love," Mata said. "And we are noticing that we don't get help calls from our iPhone users, while Windows Mobile users need more help. This might seem irrational, but the truth is that Apple manages to create emotional attachments to its products, which is something to be envied and admired."

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

Shop Tech Products at Amazon