I recently got a text message from AT&T letting me know that I was “enjoying” free tethering with my iPhone, and that I would need to change my habits or be forced to upgrade to an official tethering plan. For all intents and purposes, I will refer to this as the “text of death.”

This text of death from AT&T didn’t surprise me. We reported awhile ago that AT&T was beginning to crack down on tethering that wasn’t sanctioned through their official tethering plan.

What surprised me was that I thought I’d been careful, meaning, I thought I’d played it safe with how much I’d been tethering. After calling AT&T, I discovered some interesting information that might help those of you in a similar position.

Before I get into my story with AT&T customer support, I’ll explain the situation.

In case you didn’t know, “tethering” is the act of sharing your mobile device’s data signal with other devices. You can tether through Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or USB. AT&T offers a 4GB tethering plan for $45 a month, with a $10 overage charge for every 1GB you exceed.

If you jailbreak the iPhone, you have the option of using a handy app called MyWi.

MyWi allows you to use your iPhone to tether outside of AT&T’s tethering plan. It’s basically unlimited tethering and mobile hotspots through your 3G connection.

Because you are not going through AT&T’s payment infrastructure, the carrier has not recognized when you were unofficially tethering.

I use the past tense because, as of late, AT&T has begun to hunt down people like me who use MyWi to tether without a paid tethering plan from AT&T. Even if you have an unlimited data plan (which I do), AT&T still feels that it has the right to dictate how you use that data.

I’ve been using MyWi to tether from my iPhone to my laptop on and off for almost nine months. I always had the feeling that AT&T may one day realize that their precious customer wasn’t following “the rules,” so I tried to be careful about my usage.

(Pro tip: Turn the password on for your hotspot in MyWi so others can’t use your connection when you’re in a public place.)

When I heard that AT&T was starting to send the texts of death to customers that were suspected of unapproved tethering, I became even more careful. I figured that the network was probably monitoring bandwidth to tell if someone was hogging data. The data hogs are usually the MyWi people like me.

I figured that if I only browsed the web, checked email, and did other low-level data operations with MyWi, I’d be alright. As long as I wasn’t downloading music or streaming Netflix, AT&T wouldn’t be able to catch that I was actually tethering, right?

Apparently that wasn’t case. Out of the blue today I got the text of death letting me know that AT&T had noticed tethering activity on my account, and that I would be upgraded to the paid tethering plan if the activity continued.

Needless to say, I was crushed. I thought I had been careful. I hadn’t used a ton of bandwidth while tethering. But I guess AT&T is using more sophisticated methods like packet sniffing (you can read data packets and tell if they come from a desktop machine or not) to find the tethering perpetrators like me.

I decided that I should immediately call AT&T customer support to get the scoop on what was going on. The text of death I got was just a warning, but it still needed to be followed up on.

After a glorious 35 minute hold (with that annoying woman’s voice trying to sell me plans and give me tips), I was greeted by a wonderful AT&T rep named Brenda. It was late in the afternoon, and it sounded like Brenda was ready to end what had been a very long day.

Once the greeting and account verification stuff was done, I decided to play dumb. I wanted to see how Brenda would respond to me if I acted like I new nothing about what jailbreaking meant.

Brenda ran a test on my account and re-stated that AT&T had picked up on tethering activity coming from my line. She then proceeded to ask me if I knew what “tethering” was. I’m usually an honest man, but for the sake of experiment, I said no.

Brenda then proceeded to walk me though the definition of tethering and how people can circumvent AT&T’s plan for tethering. I particularly liked how she worded this part, “Some people even go so far as to jailbreak their iPhone, which voids the warranty, and install unapproved, third party software that allows them to tether.

Oops, that’s me. My iPhone is jailbroken.

(Pro tip: Don’t EVER let Apple or your carrier know that your device is jailbroken. It’s just not a good idea.)

I continued to play dumb and Brenda explained that AT&T would be emailing me and sending me a letter with the same info as the text of death. She kindly told me that this message was simply a warning, and that my data plan was not being changed.

Brenda did tell me that AT&T would contact me again and change my data plan if anymore tethering activity was noticed on my line after May 13th. Because I’m grandfathered into the coveted unlimited data plan, it would be especially catastrophic for AT&T to change my plan on me.

I continued to play dumb as to why my account would be showing tethering activity. I wanted to see if Brenda could give me explicit evidence for AT&T’s claim that I had been tethering, but she would not.

Brenda kindly informed me that Apple had released iOS 4.3.3 earlier that day, and that I should check in my iPhone’s Settings to make sure I’m running the latest firmware. She then said that there were “several patched security bugs” for tethering in the latest version of iOS. She said that upgrading iOS would help ensure that no one could unofficially tether with my iPhone.

After she told me to upgrade to 4.3.3, Brenda and I parted ways. That was the only advice she could give me. I didn’t expect anything else because she didn’t know I was jailbroken. (I wasn’t about to void my warranty.)

Am I going to continue to tether with MyWi until I get a second warning from AT&T? Yes I am. It took them awhile to discover me tethering, and I have a feeling I may slip through the cracks again.

Several people in similar situations have said that playing dumb and saying you stream a lot of Netflix and Pandora on the iPhone will get AT&T off your back. No such tactic worked for me with Brenda.

Have you run into an experience like this with AT&T? If you are a heavy MyWi user, are you afraid of getting shut down by Big Brother? Share your stories with us below!

  • Edwin

    Not being able to tether is like saying you can’t buy a wifi router to make your comcast home internet available to share with wifi enabled devices.

    Like saying, I bought some food but I can’t give it to someone else if I wanted too.

    • Michael

      Well, if you go to an “all-you-can-eat-restaurant”, YOU can eat as much as YOU can. If you bring a friend and feed him too, dont be upset if you will be charged for a second person.

      • LOL

        Perhaps your right on the food, but people who tether are just using a service (for themselves) that they (themselves) already pay for. so they shouldnt be punished for using it! people who tether are not doing it for the sake of the public to have free internet. I have a friend that tethers and his connection is secure and not used by anyone else but himself, but he pays for unlimited internet and so he should be able to use it. He isn’t asking AT&T to feed the multitude with free data.

    • Bob

      I replied “STOP” and recievedca message back saying I had choose to opt out of advertisements….. If you missed the key word, it’s “advertisement.” I don’t know if there is a way to track, I hear yes, but I also hear no

      • Braxton Miller

        They use the ip address. Your phone should only have traffic to one ip. If tethered it will have traffic to more than one.

  • Austin

    I love this blog. 🙂

  • Dave

    If you ever tried to turn on the Tether Option, and I mean EVER from your setting in the IPHONE this sends ATT a message. They are going on this and sending everyone that has attempted to tether a TXT an EMAIL and a Letter in the mail.

    • SpideyRules

      I’m not sure what you’re on or where you’re getting your information, but this is 100% false…

      I’ve used tethering plenty and have never received any sort of notice…”text, email, OR letter in the mail”…

  • Here in Brazil we can use MyWi normally. There is no Thetering plan…. You just sign for data plan an thats it. You can do wharever you want with it. We have Tim, Vivo, Claro and Oi companies here. If one is open for thetering, the others wants to follow because they lose clients. Thanks a lot. This blog is awesome.

  • Hrusi

    Carriers in US are from dinosaur era. No wonder their thinking is archaic. Their modus operandi, plans, devices, features are at least a generation old. Even third world countries like India have better carriers in every aspect.

  • talipiaface

    Does anybody know what would happen if I routed everything through a VPN? Would ATT still be able to detect tethering using MyWI?

  • evan

    hey guys just wanted to provide a couple tips about future tethering issues and how AT&T catches you
    . Its very simple and they don’t have any program that detects what kind of software your using and so forth otherwise that would breech privacy laws and so forth. what they basically do is use the information you provide for them against you. That information being the internet traffic you send them every time you visit various websites stream music or download.
    the traffic from the ios operating system is different from say windows or leopard for that matter, which pops a red flag meaning you are tethering. Its that simple.
    some one who tethers their iphones only to their ipad would never get caught because the info being sent comes from the same operating system regardless of the amount of data sent as opposed to some one using a windows operating system.

    so some solutions i would suggest are get a ipad if you have a iphone and vice versa for those on android operating systems(maybe the zoom)
    anther solution is in cydia…I highly recommend that you do not just install miwi without downloading tetherme and its apn encoding app also..it basically turns on your tethering option in settings and then encrypts all the traffic being sent out to seem has if it comes directly from your phone and not anther device, well worth an extra five bucks
    Lastly if your on a ios version before 4.3.3 don’t upgrade it. with every upgrade comes more security fixes even if there is a jailbreak. being on 4.2.1 is not different functionally then 4.3.3
    good luck in this never ending cat and mouse game

    • blueman

      Does tetherme just run in the background all the time? Are there settings in the app you have to tweak?

    • Alex

      So does TetherMe and MyWi work together somehow? Or are you saying just give up on MyWi and use TetherMe because it has anti-ATT detection built in with the APN editor?

    • Soupcirl

      Thank you all for this info! I have an iPhone 3g with unlimited data plan iOS 4.2.1. Was going to purchase an wifi only android tablet over the weekend – jailbreak the phone and use it to connect to the Internet (not heavy stuff like movies…) when I’m away from real wifi….

      Is this going to be an issue – or am I ok since my iOS is 4.2.1???

  • Vernon

    Anybody else use Tetherme to connect a windows machine to an iPhone on Att? Do you get detected?

  • mutatio

    As others have noted I’m curious to know if VPN will keep such packets from being detected. Additionally, if we have any uber Apple nerds on this page, without (or with) VPN if one were to use the developer feature in Safari on a Mac, to emulate iPhone’s Safari, would this mask any issues with such packets? I assume I’d have to limit the applications I have open. e.g., I wouldn’t have Mail or other desktop internet apps open that might potentially send such identifiable packets.

    I’m not interested in doing any heavy tethering, just for emergency business/employment purposes. Simply put, I work online from home and in the event that our internet goes out, being able to tether would mean I wouldn’t lose my ability to work.

    • Anonymous

      I setup VPN server and have my iPhone connected to that after receiving a tethering warning. I would also like to know if this would prevent AT&T from detecting tethering.

      • So zakius, how did that VPN work out for you?

        I didn’t look in the TOS, but someone posted somewhere else that VPN over cellular violates the AT&T TOS for non-business plans.


  • Mark

    Today we got bumped from our Unlimited Data to the 45.00 4GB tethering plan because of suspected tethering on both our iPhones. I don’t even know what to say. I spoke with them for almost 1 hour and they could not do anything about it. What they recommended was that if I was not tethering, I can log onto my account and switch it over to the 2GB plan, but Unlimited was no longer an option.

    So basically, they kicked us off our unlimited plan.

    Anybody else reporting AT&T to the Better Business Bureau?

    • Mike

      @Mark: Did you ask about canceling your service all together? I would think that if they want to change the terms of the contract, then they have to let you out of it if the change is harmful to you. I would check on that.

  • MywiRocks

    I also got text about tethering. I’ve asked them to prove it. Was told to write letter to send to request that info. So far I have not heard back. Here is the address to have them prove it. If they can’t you should still be able to keep unlimited plan.

    221 Venture Way
    Lafayette, LA. 70507

    • Linda

      I have gotten my second text. Spoke with a lady who told me the same thing as discussed previously. I told her how can I stop (someone) from tethering with my iPhone. That I was not aware it had been going on as I told them back in May. She just “hem hawed” and stated that I would “have” to go on the tethering plan that it was “only $10 more”. She told me that it would be added to my plan in November. I am thinking about writing at letter also. Has anyone received a response from ATT?

  • Midwest-normal

    I received this text and letter. My question to AT&T when I called was my plan says unlimited data where’s the unlimited? They said they interpreted unlimited data differently. Irony – I use less than 2gig a month. I’m not doing anything wrong. I have contracted and paid for unlimited data!

    Here’s the deal, my friends without iPhones have not had this problem. I was given explicit information, by the AT&T person, on how AT&T accesses my iPhone and iTunes. I was instructed that once I downloaded a new version of iPhone software, AT&T could tell. This is too big brother for me. I’m getting a new phone and it isn’t going to be made by Apple. As far as iTunes – I’m tired of that too.

  • kevin

    How is this not illegal??
    if you have an unlimited plan…i mean it at least halfway makes sense, although i’d argue that they agreed to unlimited so its their own fault…but if i’m paying for 2Gb…why should they care in what fashion i use those 2gigs…and for that matter why are they monitoring my phone to see how i use my 2gigs…thats bs
    double billing phone connections is illegal….so how is it not for internet? people need to realize phone cable and internet are essentially the same thing, data through wires…
    theyre charging for the 2 gigs and then charging again for sending those gigs through my phone to my ipad, which is a service that has absolutely nothing to do with AT&T….can we please class action sue these idiots….anyone? It’d be like me charging you to buy a loaf of bread…and then charging you again for giving a slice of bread to your buddy
    I’m Canadian trying to get plans for my american sales reps…even in Canada we can do this for no extra charge, and our phone plans are in general horrible compared to american…
    This is literally the exact same thing as charging for a signal going into your router which you bought yourself….and then again charging because your router is sending that signal to your computer…how is that legal?…and how do they detect that your doing it in the first place?? is that not gross invasion of privacy?….I’m just disgusted with you right now america lol

  • James H Lewis

    Here is what I know. I listened to an analyst conference call with the CEO of ATT and he said 20% of the users of iDevices account for 65+% of the traffic on their networks. So for them the unlimited data plan is killing profit margins…. Because they can’t jam as many people on their networks. And he added that they were going to work to greatly reduce their networks traffic even if it meant dropping The heavy IPhone users ( this was pre iPhone 4)

    So in the end my fellow tech lovers it is the dollar that is the TRUE master of things here.

  • Scott K.

    I have an iPhone 3GS, jail broken, and run MyWi a lot of the time. I use it to tether my windows-based laptop as well as my iPad2. Never worried about the data consumption for a minute because I am grandfathered in with the unlimited data plan on my iPhone. I have fortunately never received a text or any type of notification that I was suspected of tethering at all. I intend to upgrade to the 5th-generation iPhone when it comes out and sincerely hope they don’t make me change my data plan. I was told when the iPhone 4 came out that I could upgrade my 3GS with no change to data plan, but there have been lots of changes at AT&T since then.

  • ATT Customer

    I have an iPhone 4, iOS 4.3.3, Jailbroken, MyWi 4, and unlimited data. I tether maybe once or twice a month, usually emergencies. My monthly data usage is quite a bit under 2GB/month, and I, so far, have NOT gotten a warning text, email or letter from AT&T.

    Could it be that my usage is so low that I’m not one of the “heavy” customers they worry about? So, it’s not about tethering, it’s about bandwidth consumption? Tethering via jailbreak is just a “legal excuse” to cut people from an unlimited data plan they offered and now regret?

    Amazing, when I sign a contract I regret, I don’t have the legal resources to find loopholes to get out. Must be nice to be a multi-billion dollar corporation. There are no laws when you make it that far.

  • Mike

    I remember my high speed ISP years ago telling me that I was violating my contract by having a router and more then 3 computer in my home using the same source. They changed their policies and I would suspect cell carriers will do the same thing. This is the future for data transfer and this will become a larger problem the more people learn how to do it.

  • S

    What if you use MyWi to connect through bluetooth/USB to a laptop, and then use that laptop to access the net? Will that be any safer??

  • T

    Here’s a question: I keep reading suggestions that AT&T might be looking at headers to detect you using Firefox or desktop Safari as a way of telling you’re tethering. If this is the case, what’s to stop them from mistakenly identifying you as a tetherer if you’re using a legitimate app-store browser like Atomic, which allows you to change the user-agent string so that websites won’t sniff that you’re on iOS and deliver you a scaled-back mobile version?

  • Gabby

    You mean to tell me that ATT is so short sighted that in these hard times and joblessness they would rather further strangle loyal customers that did not defect to verizon sprint or metro pcs….etc. For greed? Come on I use my internet.And like you I am under my two gigs. With this spotty, price-gouged, crappy service the only reason I stayed with ATTwast my Iphone . Verizon was getting killeed because they didnt have the Iphone and now they have it. YOUR PHONE SERVICE WAS (AT BEST) OK and in the past couple of years getting worse.The whole country is going wifi where will all of your customers go- to the lowest bidder. I dont mind getting what I pay for. The problem is I’m paying for the best service and not getting it. My contract is almost up anyway and you have made my decision for me,dummies.Yes I can go to Metro or Sprint or Virgin or any other cheap company and their service is crap. But at least then I would betting what I paid for.

  • Tcrav

    Has anyone got the txt with using tetherme?

  • Robb Love

    I just received AT&T’s letter today. I have a 2GB data plan and usually go over that plan by a 1GB per month. That’s an extra $10 for them. I called AT&T’s customer service and told them to leave my plan the way it was. Then I posed a question to the customer service lady- “What is the difference if I sign up for teethering through AT&T or do it the way I’ve been doing it? Either way you are getting paid the $10 per month per extra GB. I don’t usually go over the extra GB and if I did go over, I’d be paying you the extra $20 for the second GB, the same amount you are asking for the teethering. I’m paying you the money proportionate to the usage of GB you are already currently asking for.” The lady had no response. She said she understood what I was saying but if I wanted to teether, I had to sign up for their teethering plan. I then told her that “that doesn’t make sense to me. I only teether because I need to send e-mails via my computer that deal with flash, and my iPhone doesn’t support flash.” She once again said she saw where I was coming from but still said I need to sign up for their teethering plan if I want to teether. I then said to the lady “well, I can stop using the extra GB all together and not give you the extra $10.” She said that was fine and repeated to me what she repeated twice already about needing a teethering plan to teether. AT&T is up their ass. Teethering I should be able to use however I want. It’s my phone, I paid for it. Should I have to pay for voicemail and other features on my phone as well? I have a feeling AT&T is gonna feel huge backlack for this.

  • Linda

    The plan stated unlimited. Plain and simple. I signed up over two years ago. Paid my bill on time. Now they want a bigger piece of the pie. I have received my second email. I called and spoke with a lady who could only say that I would be changed from my Unlimited Plan to the Tethering plan which would cost me $10 more and give me limited data. That is not exceptable. Why did they think I was tethering and she said they have their ways. I believe this is an injustice. And, in the long run, it may come back and bite them with a lawsuit, meantime we have to suffer through this as loyal customers. I believe there is a class action suite ready to happen…..

  • Leo

    My opinion is that maybe in the start you did agree to being able to use the unlimited service. Then they upgraded to the new plans which did not offer that. Then every time you install an app on your iphone you have to agree to the new terms. I bet you somewhere in the new terms they make it legal to change your unlimited plan whereas before they could not. Watch for what you agree too >.<

  • Matt

    When I signed up for the unlimited data plan two years ago, ATT did not even offer tethering as an option in the US. In fact I bought the iphone because I wanted to tether and the ATT website listed the iphone with a tethering option on their website. After receiving the iphone i could not find out how to turn tethering on and after phone call to att found out teethering was not offered in US. So I jailbroke the phone and figured out how to do it using MiWi. Now of course i get the notice text and emails about tethering. Seems funny before it was not offered and now i have to pay. FU Att if I got better cell reception at my house by any other carrier I would drop ATT now in a heartbeet. If 120.00 a month is not high enough for a cell phone now they want to cahrge yet again for tethering and i still dont even have unlimited text. I would jump ship in a minute if there was better coverage in my area.

  • Mywi is has the best UI of all the tethering software out there but it doesn’t mask the traffic to and from your computer. It’s not the volume of traffic that tips AT&T, it’s the type of traffic that AT&T detects and recognizes. PDAnet and Tetherme mask this traffic and users of both don’t get this text. Or at least I havent heard any of them getting it (including this author).

  • Jason

    I was like some of the others on here when I got my first “warning” txt back in May. Didn’t know what they were talking about. 😉 they told me then that if I ever got caught again, my Unlimited Data plan would be automatically changed to that POS $45 tethering data plan.

    They were not bluffing. I got an email yesterday stating that I had been caught tethering and effective Nov 1, my plan had been changed. I slept on it and gave them a call this morning. I already had my script ready for ’em. I played stupid once again and blamed it on the kidos. 😉 after a little more acting and casual BS, he gave me my unlimited plan back but stated (several times) that if it EVER happened again, no matter the reason, I would lose my Unlimited Data and be stuck with the tethering plan. So I quickly jumped online and searched for a way around them knowing that I am tethering. That’s when I found PDANet for iPhone. It wasn’t around when I got MyWi a long time ago, so didn’t know about. It is suppose to have an option to “Hide my tethering”, so AT&T can’t tell that your using your phone for tethering. Anyone else had success with this?? MyWi is not longer an option for me, can’t risk loosing my Unlimited Data plan!

  • Yes i ran into an experience very similar to yours and I got several warnings and so did my wife. They eventually changed my plan to the 4 gb tethering option. I called and played dumb again and they changed me back to my original unlimited data plan. I would caution all to be careful or use PDANet. It is not as intuitive as MyWi but it works and there is a hide option which I am not sure if it actually works. Until the next warning text from AT&T, I will continue to tether without their RIPOFF tethering plan!

    • Anonymous

      Hey Guys n Gals! Check this out. I had my iPhone 4 and my wife and two daughters 3G’s jailbroke and on ATT for a couple of years till they started threatening, then adding data plans. I’ve always had unlimited for work, but my girls have always just used the wifi in our house. ATT kept on to the point that I took my girls (3 iPhones) over to T-mobile. I told ATT that I hoped that they were happy loosing three lines and that I have taken 3 iphones to T-Mobile. Their response “You can’t do that sir. T-mobile doesn’t support iPhone”. That’s when I bragged to them that I had unlocked the phones and that T-mobile customer service even helped me with the data information to get it to work! I then bragged about how well they worked and that if they gave me anymore Sh!t that I would jump ship myself in two months after my contract was up! That was a year and a half ago. I have been Tethering every thing under the sun off of my iPhone and using up great amounts of bandwidth just looking for a fight with them (AT&T).
      But they haven’t bothered me since. I don’t know if it would change, if I were to enter into a new contract or not!
      It makes you wonder though!

  • Someone posted below to rebel and eat as much bandwidth as possible; this is the dumbest thing I have heard. If you have learned any basic networking you would know the capacity at any individual Instance on a switch and know that it is designing to handle a lot of data, if a switch is nearing capacity data algorithms test reroutes and then reroute your data. Even though it it doesn’t matter, when you hit a certain amount of data AT&T will throttle your speeds incase you are literally using a data spamming script to try to choke their network which does absolutely nothing when done by a single person. Secondly, I don’t even use mywi but the difference between desktop and mobile packets, contents and destination is extremely easy to mask in this situation if the structure of the mywi app was properly build from the beginning. I suggest instead of complaining, get some legitimate programers to rework the mywi app, this is an easy match with AT&T that you are losing.

    Source: I was a devoloper of the tor anonymity network and other similar projects.

  • Chris, theres no killing the Dragons flaming breath by blowing up bandwidth legitimately, they simply don’t care! The message has to go expeditiously across there multibillion dollar ATT Board of Directors with a law suit for overcharges and false advertisement on a “fraudulent contract” they lured us in to named “unlimited Plans” and for there invasion of our privacy thus violating our freedom and constitution! Its the only way we can slay this Dragons !!

    I’m in !!!

  • David Ramey

    I actually had the same problem with Android. Now with the 5 gig plan and legal tethering I can’t tether. Everything is blocked since all my tethering apps are blocked by att including the one that is built into cm7.