Samsung appears to have developed a workaround that is blocking FoxFi on Galaxy S II units, and the change is hitting Sprint customers as the Epic Touch 4G upgrade rolls out today. Several users have contacted us, reporting FoxFi no longer works after updating their Epic Touch 4G units to Android 4.0.
FoxFi is a tethering app that bypasses the tethering toll bridge adopted by Android in Gingerbread and newer versions. The toll bridge prompts users to add the applicable tethering plan to their account.
The legality of tethering, without carrier permission (and plan) has been hazy. In the FCC’s view, net neutrality permits tethering. However, the federal courts have disagreed, with the latest court rulings falling on the side of carriers. There are some exceptions, such as on the C-Block for Verizon Wireless 4G LTE customers. While Verizon objects to such restrictions, they also signed off on them… but are poised to challenge them in court.
Sprint used to offer unlimited data via tethering, but has curtailed to a 5 GB $29.99 tethering add-on, retroactive even to grandfathered customers that signed up for the unlimited tethering plan. While an ETF Out in our view, customers that were hit hardest encountered difficulty in jumping ship over the matter.
FoxFi works by leveraging Android Actions, a scripting workflow that bypasses the tethering toll prompt. FoxFi tells the Android System to initiate its own tethering mode, bypassing the carrier toll “booth” and plan verification system. It’s also been very effective, only HTC had thoroughly blocked it. LG now appears to be doing so on its newer handsets.
And, there’s good reason for the handset manufacturers not to. The most savvy evangelists are typically net neutrality supporters, and thus believe FoxFi is legitimate, at all times. As such, evangelists and prosumers are likely to pick devices that permit FoxFi, rather than block it.
The makers that, thus far, have embraced permitting FoxFi, have seen higher sales. Motorola and Samsung have been permitting FoxFi, where as HTC has struggled in the marketplace, along with LG. LG started blocking FoxFi on MetroPCS and other prepaid carrier handsets first.
The future for FoxFi is looking bleaker by the day, as carriers continue to resist open pipe tethering. LG has even begun to challenge its compatibility with Android by blocking USB proxies, which have historically facilitated USB tethering. USB tethering, with apps like Klink and PDANet being rendered inoperable. These apps utilize the USB Debugging mode, which allows proxies. Carriers have attempted to block these apps on the app stores, but thanks to Android’s openness, and sideloading, those efforts have largely failed.
Google, a supporter of Net Neutrality, has assisted tethering. Users can purchase tethering apps by switching to Wi-Fi, and logging back into the Google Play Store. And, it’s in Google’s interest to encourage both open pipes and tethering, as it’s much more likely to prompt users to engage with Google’s services on tablets and laptops. With 4G LTE, accessing YouTube and other high-bandwidth services will empower Google to better compete head on with carriers and other MSOs, with their own first-party multimedia content farms, networks, and other offerings.
Which again makes Google’s Nexus line a leveling factor. With strict adherence to Google’s Android rules, policies, and protocols, free tethering will live on inside Galaxy Nexus, and future Galaxy phones.
Update: FoxFi has posted a note on their Sprint download page that they are working on a solution to the Epic Touch 4G blockade, as well as a similar block on Galaxy S III smartphones.