HTC Thunderbolt’s 4G Mobile Hotspot Tethering App: Fickle Feature or Useful Utility?

After having spent some time now since the release of the HTC Thunderbolt as my primary smartphone, I have greatly enjoyed my experience with the device despite major issues, like the noticeably short battery life. That said, there is one feature in particular that bugs me on the Thunderbolt, and that’s tethering via the Mobile Hotspot app on the device. The feature, which is free during this initial launch promotion, has not yet been priced by Verizon, does not seem to work for me despite various attempts to connect and tether my Mac and Lenovo laptop to the Internet.

The way that the mobile hotspot app is supposed to work is that it’s supposed to turn your smartphone into a MiFi-like mobile hotspot router, allowing you to share your smartphone’s mobile broadband data connection and plan to nearby WiFi-enabled devices. However, enabling the app on the Thunderbolt is often futile for me and various tech bloggers at a Verizon roundtable today. In fact, all these writers and editors share the same sentiment–that the app works fine on the yet to be released on the Droid Charge, and that it doesn’t seem to work properly–or at all–for editors from sites ranging from All Things D to Engadget.

I can only speak of my experience, however, and that is the app works for a period of 10-15 seconds before timing out when I am trying to load a webpage. Other editors have noted that they haven’t been able to connect to the Thunderbolt’s WiFi connection, and I can say that I haven’t had that problem as I’ve been able to connect and remain connected via WiFi. The problem is that after about 15 seconds, the Thunderbolt won’t give me access to Verizon’s 4G LTE network despite my laptop maintaining a strong connection to the phone over WiFi.

To attempt to remedy this, I tried to turn off the screen auto-lock, essentially keeping the screen on and hoping that the device and the network connection wouldn’t time out or go idle. That seems to work, but only slightly better as often times, the Internet timeouts were replaced with a period of extremely long latency–about 20 seconds or so, before the page would do anything. Sometimes, I find that if I disconnect my computer’s WiFi and reconnect it, the mobile broadband access via tethering would work again for a few more seconds before timing out.

It seems that the feature is more a gimmick right now on the Thunderbolt, and hopefully HTC can iron out the issues as the MiFi seems to work fine (despite intermittent periods of latency where it sometimes seem that the data connection is lost until it reconnects again and the page loads after patiently waiting) and that it seems to work without a hitch on the Samsung Droid Charge.

Theoretically, if tethering was to work, users can experience 6-12 Mbps download speeds on Verizon Wireless’s 4G LTE network and 2-5 Mbps on the upload speeds. I’ve routinely experienced faster speeds as it seems that Verizon is cleverly under-selling the speeds and over-delivering on performance.

The carrier has yet to announce what 4G LTE tethering will cost and if there will be any data caps for tethering.

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If you’re a business user or one who relies on tethering, I wouldn’t recommend that you use the Thunderbolt to supplant your MiFi or other form of connection for your laptop, tablet, or other WiFi-enabled device. While the Thunderbolt’s mobile hotspot app is a nice feature as a backup, it is no means a reliable feature at this point, and hopefully that can be rectified soon via a software update.

  

Comments

  1. Jj says

     I have been using the hotspot feature without any issue since day one, must be your device.

  2. Anonymous says

     I have seen this issue as well.  Everything’s working fine for a few minutes or a few seconds, and then the connection is lost and the only solution is to turn the hotspot off and then on again.  It doesn’t happen all the time, so it may have to do with the strength of the 4G signal wherever I happen to be.  I have noticed that the 4G seems to drop a lot whether I am using the hotspot or not.  It’s something Verizon really needs to work on.

  3. Greg Bridwell says

    I tether daily via WiFi on my iPad and Galaxy Tab and directly with the usb cable to my laptop and have had none if these issues. Lemon tester phone?

  4. TC says

    I’ve only had my Thunderbolt for 3 weeks but every time I use the hotspot, it works perfectly for hours at a time.

  5. JT says

    I spent 2 hours tethered the other day while the phone moved form 4Gs to 3G and even to 1x and never once lost internet connection.  

    What I want to know is if Verizon is going to come out and tell me when they plan to start charing for the feature.  

  6. ramatsu says

    I had this exact issue. Verizon tech #1: “It’s a known issue; fix will be out this week.” Verizon tech #2 (after week came and went): “I don’t know about that, let me call HTC… HTC tech says it’s a known problem, but they don’t know when the fix will be out.” Verizon tech #3 (on the last day of my grace period): “Not a known issue. Ok, I’ll call HTC… They say it’s not  a known issue.” “Then those other people are wrong.”

    When I asked him about the idea that not finding any record that it’s a known issue doesn’t seem like reliable proof that it’s not, in the face of HTC and Verizon techs who confirmed that it is, he got really rude (I was trying my hardest to be polite, though he could probably tell I was a bit distressed). Phone returned.

    Every other Verizon rep I worked with in buying the phone, trying to get the problem fixed, and rectifying the $400+ billing errors that their system created were really pleasant and helpful. I would definitely consider going back to them and hope that guy has been weeded out by then.

  7. Dave says

    Kinda weird, but at first I had the same problem of the Tbolt showing up in my laptop’s Wireless Networks, but it wouldn’t connect. Then I restarted the Tbolt, and now it shows as “not connected” in the list of Wireless Networks, but it is connected, and I can browse the Internet. Though the upload speed is only 1.5 Mbit. Of course, I’m only on 3G with the phone.

    • Dave says

      Success, finally. After the reboot of the Tbolt and “not connected” connection, I made sure to set the Tbolt’s security settings and the laptop’s to the same values. I think I had the Tbolt set to newer protocols than my laptop could understand (it’s a few years old). Now it seems to be working right. Download speeds over 2 Gbit/sec over 3G.

  8. paul says

    3g speeds are up to 3.1mbps on verizon so what is that guy talking about not getting 2mbps on 3g. Lte is supposed to get 100mbps(future use) but we only get about 37mbps at highest and average 12 or 14 mbps from verizon. Att has hspa+ which is 3g upgraded gets about 9mbps on average.

  9. Ibex Data says

    Extremely sensitive 4G connection here around Orange County, CA. Tethering never lasts more than 15 minutes. Period. Bought the Thunderbolt as a combined replacement for phone and 3G MiFi as a mobile business solution.  Epic fail so far.

  10. Lasha says

    How do I connect my TB to my laptop to use the internet? When I try it says I need to subscribe to the $30 plan. Having a smart phone automatically requires the data plan and I have that. I thought using the TB internet connection was free, maybe I’m wrong. Can anyone help me out!?

    • Bill says

      Verizon rolled out an update to fix the random re-boot problem with the tunderbolt.  When they did this, they disabled the native hotspot / tethering feature of the phone unless you pay the $30/month fee on top of your data plan.  Kind of a slimy thing for them to do, considering it was a touted ‘free’ feature when the phone was launched.

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