AT&T has finally enabled internet tethering so you can use your iPhone as a 3G connection. Those of you outside the US that have had iPhone tethering for years can feel free to laugh all you want now. Anyway, the downside to using an iPhone on a PC is that you need to install iTunes. While Apple makes wonderful software for OSX, iTunes on the PC is well, how can I say this, umm, kind of big and fat. My wife has iTunes on her PC and it’s been a hassle at times. As I use OSX for all my music, photo, and video needs, I’ve never needed to run iTunes on my Windows machines. With my upgrade to iPhone 4 (which I can’t rave enough about because it fixed all my dropped call problems), I realized to use the iPhone for tethering to get an internet connection, I was looking at installing iTunes, which was filling me with dread.

As iTunes was downloading, I was thinking I was going to be installing a truck load of programs and services just to get an attachment to the iPhone. All I needed were the device drivers for the iPhone, not the rest of the stuff in the package. As I’ve hacked through Apple’s installers before, and have been doing Windows development far too long, I set out to see if I could get just the hardware drivers without the rest of iTunes. It turned out to be far easier than I ever would have guessed! I’m fully tethered and nary an iTunes or Apple service in sight. Even better, I didn’t have to jail break or hack the iPhone at all.

Obviously you need to be set up with AT&T (or your service provider if outside the US) and have purchased the tethering plan before attempting these steps. The following instructions might work with phones other than the iPhone 4, but I haven’t tested any other combinations. My operating system is Windows 7 x64 but I suspect this might work for other operating systems but don’t know for sure. One major point is that the iTunes-less internet tethering requires a Bluetooth connection. Since most modern laptops have Bluetooth, that’s not much of a problem. If you don’t have a Bluetooth connection, there’s spiffy $20 Bluetooth USB dongles that should work. I spent no time trying to get a USB connection to work so you’re on your own there. Another item I need to point out is that by following these steps, you’ll lose the ability to use your iPhone as a USB file drive. I’m sure there’s a way to get that capability back, but I haven’t looked at what it would take.

Finally, this is obviously not supported at all by Apple or AT&T nor am I an employee of either company. This works for me but it might your fish to swim upside down, your kids to dye their hair purple with yellow racing stripes right before graduation pictures, or blow up your machine so I proclaim myself blameless for any bad things that could happen. With that disclaimer, here are the steps that worked for me.

This blog entry may prove popular with people outside my normal hardcore software developer audience so I’ve made the steps very explicit in order to help avoid bricked phones and laptops. All disclaimers still apply!

  1. Disconnected your iPhone from the computer if it’s connected with a USB cable.
  2. Download iTunes. It is critical you select the right version for the “bitness” of your operating system installation. If you’re running an x64 operating system, you have to get the 64-bit version. If you’re not sure what you have, Microsoft has a Knowledge Base article for you.
  3. Open Explorer. Enter “%TEMP%” (without quotes) in the address bar to navigate to your TEMP directory. For the curious, %TEMP% is the environment variable expansion Explorer supports.
  4. Run the iTunes64Setup.exe or iTunesSetup.exe program. DO NOT CLICK ANY BUTTONS ON THE SETUP USER INTERFACE.
  5. With the Explorer window still open to the %TEMP% directory, look for a directory with the most current time stamp. In my case, the directory was names IXP686.TMP, but the name is generated randomly. If you’re having trouble finding the directory search for AppleMobileDeviceSupport64.MSI or AppleMobileDeviceSupport.MSI for 32-bit machines.

  6. Once you’ve found the directory, copy AppleMobileDeviceSupport64.MSI or AppleMobileDeviceSupport.MSI to another location.
  7. Cancel the iTunes installation and make sure it’s user interface is gone before continuing.
  8. In the copied directory, double click AppleMobileDeviceSupport64.msi or AppleMobileDeviceSupport.msi to install the Apple device support. This will not require a reboot.
  9. On the iPhone do the following steps
    1. Go into Settings->General->Network->Internet Tethering and turn on tethering.
    2. In Settings->General->Bluetooth and turn Bluetooth and leave the Bluetooth screen active.
  10. On your Windows 7 machine, start Devices and Printers. Click the Add device button.
  11. Follow the steps to pair your iPhone with your Windows 7 PC. Your iPhone will show up in the Devices and Printers as connected. However, the installation of the device drivers will fail reporting that the Bluetooth Peripheral Device failed. That’s not a problem as you don’t need this way of connecting. You just need the device paired at this point.
  12. Start the Control Panel and in the search box, type “Bluetooth”. In the Devices and Printers section, click “Change Bluetooth settings.” In the Bluetooth Settings dialog, check the “Show Bluetooth icon in the notification area.” Click the OK button. I had you do this as this is the fastest way to get to your Bluetooth devices to initiate a tethered connection.

To connect to the internet with your iPhone, here’s what you do.

  1. In the tray area, double click on the Bluetooth icon to bring up the Bluetooth Devices window.
  2. Right click on your iPhone and from the context menu, select Connect using, Access point.

    You’ll see the Bluetooth connection dialog pop up and after about 15 seconds or so you’ll be fully tethered to your iPhone.
    Note that you’ll always see the “Needs troubleshooting” for the status for your iPhone in the Bluetooth Devices window. You can ignore that because the magic is being done through the Bluetooth Network Connection in your network adapters.
  3. To check the connection on your iPhone, look for the top bar on the iPhone to turn blue and say Internet Tethering.
  4. To disconnect from the iPhone tethering, bring up the Bluetooth Devices window and select “Disconnection from device network” from the context menu after right clicking on your iPhone.    

Before the iPhone tethering option, I was using a second 3G wireless modem for my laptop. With the new tethering support, I’m now saving $65 a month with a cheaper data plan and canceling my other line, while getting the same level of service. Throw in a massively better phone with iPhone 4 and it’s a total win all around especially with the minimal software installed.

If you’re having trouble making the iTunes-less tethering to work drop a question in the comments. If you get these instructions to work on different Windows operating systems or iPhone model combinations, please let us know in the comments as well.