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Hotspot feature the latest boost to Windows Phone 7

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Windows Phone 7 (s msft) handsets running the new Mango software can be mobile hotspots, but the functionality appears completely dependent upon carrier activation. Even so, this is a useful feature that’s been common among Android(s goog) and iOS(s aapl) devices for more than a year; allowing the phone to share its mobile broadband with other devices over a Wi-Fi connection. In addition to the other Mango improvements, hotspot functionality is the latest function could help boost Windows Phone 7 sales.

I’ve been running the Mango software on my HTC HD7 handset for a few weeks and like the upgrade, but I don’t yet see any way to use share the phone’s 3G data connection. There’s no visible menu option, because it’s hidden within the software in an unactivated state.

Based on a Twitter tip, blogger Long Zheng examined the Mango software files and found a few registry keys offering a clue as to why: The service may be activated by calling a certain phone number, presumably the network provider supporting the phone, or possibly by navigating to a carrier website on the handset.

Enthusiasts and hackers usually jump on these types of hidden features in an effort to circumvent the controls or activate them, and this one is no exception. On the XDA-Developers forum, one of the top hands-on mobile user communities, a thread already filled with 14 pages of conversation and ideas to enable Internet sharing on Mango handsets has popped up, but s far, all discussion has been to no avail.

When the feature does eventually officially arrive, it will bring further parity between Microsoft’s mobile platform and its competitors’. Sales figures for Windows Phone 7 devices have lagged so far, mainly because the first iteration to reach consumers was missing key functions, had a relatively limited number of third-party applications and was loaded on lackluster hardware designs.

Since launching nearly a year ago, however, Microsoft has worked with developers to boost the number of apps to nearly 30,000 titles as of earlier this week. Support for better hardware, such as front-facing cameras for Skype support, are in the works. And additional functionality like the hotspot feature, improved multitasking, better Xbox Live gaming, and arguably the best speech recognition on any mobile platform are now all on board.

When I first heard about Mango’s planned features back in May, I was skeptical. But after some hands-on time with Mango, watching the app catalog quickly grow and seeing how the incremental upgrades are building upon a solid, stable mobile platform, I’m inclined to think that Microsoft will give Research In Motion(s rimm) a run for its money as a contender for the no. 3 mobile operating system.

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