AT&T's Cricket appears poised to offer mobile hotspot services for phone tethering

AT&T's (NYSE: T) Cricket Wireless prepaid brand appears to be gearing up to launch a mobile hotspot offering for $10 per month on plans that cost $50 or more. A page on the carrier's website viewed by FierceWireless offered details on the service, though that page is no longer accessible.

Multiple representatives for AT&T's Cricket did not respond to repeated requests for information from FierceWireless.

Cricket, a prepaid provider that AT&T purchased through its acquisition of Leap Wireless, offers four main service plans, starting at $25 per month for unlimited talking and texting and rising to $60 per month for unlimited talking and texting and 10 GB of 4G LTE data. Presumably the carrier's tethering service would dip into customers' data buckets.

Cricket currently prohibits mobile hotspot services, also called tethering, in its terms of service. Mobile hotspot services allow mobile phone users to create a Wi-Fi signal while backhauling the traffic through their phone's cellular data connection. The service is available across a wide range of smartphones, including iOS and Android phones, though it often requires direct support from a carrier. AT&T offers mobile hotspot services to its postpaid customers.

It's unclear why Cricket may be changing its policy on tethering. Other prepaid operators, such as Sprint's Virgin Mobile, offer mobile hotspot services. Virgin, for example, charges $3 per day for 500 MB of combined 3G/4G data access to connect up to 8 Wi-Fi-enabled devices via tethering.

The apparent forthcoming launch of tethering by AT&T's Cricket could be another ramification of the FCC's recent move to impose net neutrality guidelines on telecommunications companies, including wireless carriers. The rules generally forbid wireless carriers from blocking or throttling users' traffic for business reasons. Indeed, Sprint (NYSE: S) just last month decided to end its practice of slowing down the data speeds of its heaviest mobile data users, partly in response to the FCC's net neutrality rules.

"Although Sprint believes the program was a reasonable network management practice under both the old and new rules, we determined that the technique as we applied it was not needed to ensure a quality experience for the majority of customers," the company said last month. "Sprint doesn't expect users to notice any significant difference in their services now that we no longer engage in the process."

AT&T, for its part, is now facing a $100 million fine from the FCC for throttling customers with unlimited plans, though AT&T has argued against the move.

For more:
- see this Prepaid Phone News article

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