No doubt you’ve heard the term “tethering” from your smartphone carrier, but how can it maximize your wireless experience? At this point in its early incarnations, is it even worth the extra cost? Alternatively, can it end up saving you money?
What is Tethering?
Sold as a separate service from your wireless phone provider, tethering simply refers to the act of connecting one wireless device to another. This means that you can connect your smartphone or tablet with something like a laptop. Your iPhone essentially becomes a Wi-Fi hotspot and routes data to those devices, allowing you to access the internet more easily.
Concisely, tethering gives you Wi-Fi access on a laptop wherever your cell phone picks up a wireless internet signal. Carriers such as T-Mobile call this capability a Mobile HotSpot, while Apple refers to it as a Personal Hotspot.
Depending on the phone, high-speed internet can be accessed on up to five devices that feature Wi-Fi capabilities. These include tablets and laptops, the iPad, eReaders, and the iPod touch. The 4G network provides top connection speeds, allowing you not only to browse the web from almost anywhere, but giving you the ability to do it with the same convenience to which you have become accustomed with at-home connections. Some tethering connections are also available on the 3G network.
What Devices Do I Need for Tethering?
First, you need a phone that supports tethering. These include the iPhone 4 and 3GS. You will also need to add tethering to your mobile data plan. Choose a plan that best fits your lifestyle before adding on the extra data plan, such as a plan that allows you to talk unlimitedly with T-Mobile cell phones.
Most carriers in the US offer data plans with tethering already included, so ask your provider if such plans exist. Generally, tethering means paying an additional $20 a month over the basic data plan price, and most carriers will not allow any unlimited data plan with the tethering option.
From there, you can tether using any Wi-Fi connection, Bluetooth, or USB. The USB method is considered the default method, making it the easiest one to use. Enabling via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth is also easy, but may take a few more steps.
Things to Consider
By now, you may be ready to tether your own wireless devices and are considering a quick trip to your cellular carrier. Keep in mind the following downsides to tethering:
Battery Drain – Tethering a phone to a laptop will quickly drain the phone’s battery. This is even more noticeable when using a Bluetooth connection. To get around this battery drainage, tether using a USB instead.
Slow Internet Speeds – Since there is an extra step to tether the wireless connection to a second device, internet speeds on that device will not be as fast as the internet connection on your smartphone. This is also more noticeable when using Bluetooth, and a USB connection will produce faster speeds.
Limited Compatibility – Depending on your cell phone carrier, your smartphone may not be able to tether with certain devices at all. If you plan on using your phone to get an internet connection on your iPad, make sure to ask the carrier if this is possible with your specific phone and wireless plan.
Tethering makes it easier than ever to connect, but there are still dead zones or areas that have limited data access. This technology will only continue to improve, however, which is something to consider when trying to decide whether you want to become a frontrunner on the tethering bandwagon.