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Mobile Tethering Frustrations

Posted: April 3, 2012 2:21:06 • 655 words

I'm a professional web developer, working from home. Until very recently (a few days prior to writing this), I also had a secondary job at night, so I tend to work rather bizarre hours. So, writing code for my employer at 1am is nothing unusual.

Tonight, I was doing exactly that, trying to wrap up the last bug fixes for a project I finished last week. I was very tired, and really wanted to go to bed early, but I had to get this done before the office opened. Everything was going well, I was almost done with the last bug, when my Comcast cable connection dropped.

Sadly, losing my cable internet connection is a routine occurance, since I live in a relatively rural area with outdated infrastructure (the only reason I can think of for such abysmal speed offerings). But, unlike most glitches, it didn't come back right away. So, with no internet access, I couldn't upload the file I was working on, and couldn't finish the project.

After twiddling my thumbs for a few minutes, and ranting on Twitter about it, I remembered that I have a smartphone that's always connected to my desktop PC, to charge and to synchronize data. And, one of its USB connection options, built right into the OS, is the option to share the phone's internet connection with the PC. Perfect!

Of course, it's not that simple, because I chose Sprint as my carrier, which seemed to be the least evil of the carriers that have usable service where I live (T-Mobile had almost zero coverage here at the time, and isn't much better today). With Sprint, the data plans are actually pretty fair, but to set up my phone as a wi-fi hotspot, I'd have to add a $29.99/month extra package to my plan. Honestly, I considered it when I first decided to upgrade to a smartphone, but after I was forced to pay a very poorly-disclosed $10/month extra data fee, adding another $30/month was out of the question. Still, that extra package is only for wi-fi hotspot, and makes no mention of USB tethering, so I always assumed that worked. And I gave it a shot tonight.

Apparently, even though it's a built-in feature of the phone, and supported by the software that comes with it, USB tethering is blocked by Sprint software, and explicitly forbidden by the terms of service. As far as I can tell, this seems to apply even if the aforementioned overpriced data package is part of the plan, but information is sketchy at best. So, when I selected that as the USB connection mode, I received a message that hotspot service is not part of my cellphone plan.

Thus, the process to finish my work went something like this:

  1. Track down an Android FTP client
  2. Switch USB connection mode to Disk Drive, so I could access the SD card from my PC
  3. Copy file to phone
  4. Switch USB connection mode to Charge Only, so I could access the SD card from the phone (who designed this goofiness?)
  5. Manually set up the FTP connection, including the somewhat complex password, always a joy to type with my thumbs
  6. Transfer file
  7. Test using the phone browser (thank goodness for Opera Mobile, providing a full desktop browser on a mobile OS)
  8. Fix a glitch in the file caused by a combination of fatigue and frustration
  9. Repeat steps 2-6

All in all, what should have taken about 5 minutes took over half an hour. And that was just to work on one file that I was almost finished with when all this started. Because Sprint wants to charge unacceptable, obscene prices to use features of a device I own.

Sadly, I can't cease to do business with Sprint over this, because the other options (Verizon and AT&T) are even worse, overall. But that's ok. The internet always finds ways to route around such idiocy.