January 18, 2011, 10:48 AM — The Verizon version of the iPhone 4--due to arrive early next month--will include a personal hotspot feature that will let users share their phone's 3G connection with up to five other devices. Pending carrier approval, the hotspot feature could eventually make its way into every device--possibly as soon as the now-in-beta iOS 4.3 update arrives. And not surprisingly, that's generated a lot of positive buzz: users see the hotspot capability as a way to both reduce the number of devices they need to carry around and lower their cellular bills by sharing a single connection among multiple devices.
The introduction of this new capability, however, does raise a few interesting questions about FaceTime, another technology that Apple has touted as revolutionary despite the fact that it is severely limited by its reliance on Wi-Fi connectivity.
Why no FaceTime on 3G?
When Apple CEO Steve Jobs previewed FaceTime last year, he mentioned that the video-calling system would only work across a Wi-Fi connection, presumably due to the limited reliability of cellular networks, or perhaps because wireless operators were reluctant to embrace a technology that could possibly eat into their core revenue stream. (FaceTime calls, after all, are not billed as airtime.)
It's difficult to say whether the situation has changed enough in the intervening six months to warrant a reversal of this policy. But there are a few indications that things are, at least, moving in the right direction. First, AT&T has invested heavily in its network, particularly in areas where the coverage suffers from a combination of regulatory hurdles and unfavourable topography, like New York City and San Francisco.
What's more, even though the iPhone 4 won't use Verizon's faster LTE network, the company is similarly positioned, with good coverage and plenty of time to upgrade their network since it started working with Apple on a CDMA version of the device.