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It’s rumored that AT&T (s T) may soon allow people to tether their iPhones to their portable computers and use them as 3G modems for an extra $10 a month. Now that’s a wonderful idea — in theory. If it does indeed happen, though, you can expect one thing — your 3G iPhone may behave like a Ferrari with flat tires. Like an overloaded mule walking up a mountain trail, AT&T’s 3G network is already buckling under the strain of its many iPhone users.
You know what I’m talking about: at least once a day I get blue in the face because the network is so slow. And now imagine if hundreds of thousands of iPhone users signed up to use iPhone as a way to connect to the Internet and surf the web, check emails, watch videos and swap big files. You would have a lot of traffic flowing through AT&T’s pipes. “So what?” you might think, “AT&T has a 3G network that’s supposed to be fast.” Not quite!
Just because we have 3G phones (and networks) doesn’t mean we can get higher speeds. That’s just not the case. Most of us connect to a cell-tower, which in turn has a base station that’s connected to the phone company’s network. This connection between a base station and the wireless operator’s network is over (multiple) T-1 lines. Bandwidth coming into a base station — anywhere between 1.5 Mbps to 7.5 Mbps — is shared by people who are connecting through that base station. And that’s not enough to support blazing fast speeds for all the current iPhone users, much less the new tethering users.
Sure, there are some who are experimenting with microwave technology and deploying a Gigabit Ethernet connections, but the fact of the matter is that the backhaul networks of today are woefully ill-equipped for a real wireless broadband future. That is one of the reasons why demand for wireless backhaul equipment is on an upswing. Research firm Infonetics predicts that phone companies around the world will spend $10 billion by 2011 to make sure you can get your 3G fix on an iPhone.
But all that is going to take sometime. Sure, tethering is a great idea, and I want it now. But I also want to get 3G speeds, and this effort may disappoint.