Wearable Tech Is Free from Monthly Connection Costs, for Now

Galaxy Gear and Google Glass don't require tethering plans.

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Smartwatches and smart glasses will have a tough time taking off if they require a monthly data charge. Thankfully, wireless carriers aren’t trying to collect any tolls right now.

Representatives from AT&T and Verizon Wireless told me that Samsung’s upcoming Galaxy Gear smartwatch will not require a tethering plan or any other separate charge beyond your smartphone’s existing plan. The same will likely be true for T-Mobile, which also plans to sell the Galaxy Gear.

Meanwhile, the Google Glass Explorer Edition is getting an update that allows data connectivity without tethering, Engadget reports. Previously, users had to set up their phones as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi hotspots to create a data connection for Glass. With the update, the data flows through the companion MyGlass app for Android phones via Bluetooth, so there’s no need to create a separate tethering connection.

Google Glass exemplifies why this is tricky territory for wireless carriers and device makers: With a subtle shift in how the data gets transferred, Google is able to bypass the need for an additional data plan. My Pebble smartwatch works in similar fashion, relying on a handful of smartphone apps to transfer data to the watch instead of connecting directly to the web through tethering. Samsung’s Galaxy Gear seems to works the same way, using a “Galaxy Gear Manager” app to connect to Samsung’s smartphones.

By allowing these apps, wireless carriers have set good precedent for wearable tech, but I wonder if we’ll see the free ride come to an end. Carriers have shown that they can crack down on apps they don’t like, such as the many unauthorized tethering apps that have been removed from Google’s and Apple’s app stores through the years. Wearable tech is in its infancy, but as it becomes more advanced and more popular, we might see carriers try to flip the monetization switch. Let’s just breathe a sigh of relief that it’s not happening right now.

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