Two Canadian firms push tethering apps

A pair of Canadian companies made announcements this week in the smart phone tethering space, a market that continues to grow in spite of some lingering issues for enterprise users, according to some wireless industry analysts.


Halifax-based Tether on Friday announced the availability of its flagship TetherBerry product, an app which allows BlackBerry users to port over their 3G Internet connection for use on a laptop, at the BlackBerry App World store. The company also decided to rebrand the product under the name Tether for BlackBerry, in a move the company said will reflect its intention to expand onto other mobile platforms.


Tether’s next release is expected to be Tether for Android, with the company launching a beta for the app on Friday afternoon. Within a few hours of launching the Android beta, more than 2,000 users had already signed on for the free download, said Patrick Hankinson, director of marketing at Tether.


The company claims that over 60,000 customers around the world currently use Tether for BlackBerry, which sells for just under $30, to connect their laptops to their BlackBerry devices.


Earlier in the week, Waterloo, Ont.-based Intelligent Mechatronic Systems Inc. unveiled a downloadable smart phone and PC application called XTop Mobile, which will sell for $80 when it becomes available in March. In addition to turning a user’s BlackBerry into a wireless modem, the PC app uses Bluetooth technology to allow BlackBerry users to send SMS and receive e-mail in real-time on their laptops.


Amit Kaminer, a research analyst with the Toronto-based SeaBoard Group, said while the benefits of increased Wi-Fi coverage can be tempting, tethering apps also bring along their share of issues for enterprises.


“Your modem on the phone might have limitations and might not support the latest speeds wireless carriers are now rolling out (such as HPSA+),” he said.


Kaminer also warned that Bluetooth connectivity is far from perfect and will actually increase battery drain on both the phone and laptop devices. “Pairing a mobile phone to a laptop is not a seamless experience and it is not ‘always-on,’” he added.


Additionally, your organization might have already invested in wireless USB sticks that offer better performance that the tethering apps and are already locked in to a plan with your carrier. “USB sticks are plug and play and tend to be easier to operate,” Kaminer said.


Another question enterprises should consider, according to Kaminer, is whether or not these apps are worth the price of admission.


“I can tether my iPhone to Rogers for free,” he said. “The functionality is provided by Apple for free, and at present, Rogers does not charge extra for tethering.”


Jeff Orr, a senior analyst for mobile devices with at New York-based ABI Research, agreed, saying that BlackBerry users can also take advantage of tethering functionality without purchasing an app.


Orr said that these apps might work well as an insurance policy for some users and will most likely be a niche product at this time. In the future, Orr is looking for more features with these tethering apps, as well as a more seamless experience for customers looking to utilize their mobile phones from a portable PC.


But even with these drawbacks, some enterprise customers are showing interest.


Hankinson said enterprise interest in Tether has already come from major companies such as Pfizer Inc. and Walt Disney Co. The appeal, he said, is that major companies have employees scattered all over the world and aren’t tied to one specific carrier.


With regard to potentially exceeding your monthly data plan, Hankinson said very few of its customers even approach 5 GB per month in tethering usage.


“They’re using it on the bus or in the park to use the Web,” he said.


“As long as they’re not downloading torrents, they’ll be fine.”

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