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.

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.