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Verizon Denies Tethering and Hotspot Features to Droid Customers

Motorola Droid users better not get too excited by Android 2.2, also known as “Froyo.” While Verizon Wireless is set to push out the latest version of the Android operating system to Droid users starting this week, two key features will be missing: tethering and Wi-Fi hotspot capability.

Verizon says the Droid won’t get these two features, which are built into the Android 2.2 OS, because the device’s hardware isn’t capable of supporting it.

“The Droid by Motorola doesn’t have [the] hardware to support a mobile hotspot,” a Verizon spokesperson told MobileCrunch. “With tethering there is no connection on the PC side that will allow you to tether the device, so the answer is: That option isn’t part of this update.”

But some Android developers are not convinced.

“It’s just a business decision,” says Steven Bird, who creates custom ROMs for the Droid. “People who have a Droid see this news. And Verizon can make them think that hotspot or wired tethering is a reason to now upgrade to a new phone.” When the companies finally do offer that upgrade, they are likely to charge for it, says Bird.

Bird isn’t a conspiracy theorist. Homebrew hotspot programs are available for Droids that have been rooted–the Android equivalent of jailbreaking the phone to get complete control. Custom flavors of the Android OS such as CyanogenMod also offer Wi-Fi and USB tethering, says a user.

If the hardware is capable of tethering and acting as a hotspot when running rooted firmware, why can’t it do that with the stock firmware?

A Motorola spokesperson says, “The original Droid by Motorola was not offered with a mobile hotspot feature and will not be upgradable for that feature in the future,” she says. “Our newer devices, such as the Droid X, are enabled for mobile hotspot.”

What also makes Verizon’s claims about the Droid’s hardware capability difficult to believe is that the carrier has a history of disabling features on a phone, only to turn around and charge for it later. For instance, in 2005, a class action lawsuit filed in California claimed Verizon removed some Bluetooth features in Motorola’s v710 phone so it could charge consumers for it separately. More recently, some users have complained about Verizon nickel-and-dimeing users by charging for the visual voicemail service ($3 a month on Verizon compared to AT&T, which offers it for free on the iPhone) and offering no rollover minutes.

If it is truly a hardware issue with the Droid, Verizon needs to step up and explain the details of what the device’s chipset is capable of what and what it can’t do. Consumers are intelligent and they deserve transparency.

Verizon’s moves with the Android also go against what makes the Google-designed operating system so attractive to consumers. By putting the kind of restrictions and controls it is on Android, Verizon is turning the OS into a pale shadow of its original self. If Android was created to help give consumers choice, more features and a better OS, it isn’t working now.

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Photo: Motorola Droid (Jon Snyder/Wired.com)

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