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Tethering explained - all you need to know

3rd October 2014
Tethering explained

The ins and outs of tethering

Tethering, or a portable hotspot as it’s sometimes called, simply means sharing your smartphones 4G or 3G connection with another device by Wi-Fi, USB or Bluetooth.

While those other devices will normally have a Wi-Fi connection there are obvious times when they might not. For example when on a train or at a hotel with your laptop or tablet, tethering could get you online. It could also be used as a backup if your internet ever goes down at your home or office.

So it can certainly be useful and it’s readily supported with most smartphones on most networks. Read on for all the details.

Getting started

The good news is that the tethering feature is readily built in to and supported by most handsets. If you have an Android phone running Android version 2.2 or above, which we’d wager most people probably do since it’s up to 4.4 now, then tethering is supported.

Equally if you’re using any iPhone other than the very first one then you should be good to go as well.

On Android just go to the settings screen, select the ‘More’ option under Wireless & Networks, then depending on what phone you’re using the wording for the next bit might vary, but there should be a tethering option by one name or another. Other possibilities include ‘mobile network sharing’ and ‘portable hotspot.’

Whatever it’s called on your handset of choice find it and tap it, then you’ll be able to choose between Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or USB tethering. For USB tethering you will of course need to have connected your handset to whatever device you want to share its connection with via USB cable, at which point it should be a one-tap setup.

For Bluetooth tethering you’ll have to pair the two devices by following the onscreen instructions and for Wi-Fi tethering you’ll have to enter a network name and password, then enable Wi-Fi on the device which you want to share with, select the network you’ve just set up and enter the password.

The process on an iPhone is very similar, the only real difference is where you’ll find the tethering option. In this case you once again head to the settings screen, but then select ‘General’, then ‘Network’ and finally ‘Portable Hotspot.’

Advantages and disadvantages

You now know what tethering is and how to get it set up, but what are the good and bad points to it? Well, we’ve already highlighted some of the advantages, such as the fact that it can give you an internet connection on devices like laptops and tablets even when there’s no Wi-Fi connection, so you can work or find entertainment while on a commute, when staying in a hotel or just anytime your Wi-Fi network is having problems.

With 4G the speeds are impressive too, so it will almost be like having a broadband connection, enabling you to upload and download files in seconds, stream songs and videos without a wait and load web pages almost instantly.

You can also tether multiple devices to your smartphone, so if for example you have both a laptop and a tablet with you, or want to tether some of your friends or family’s devices as well that’s not a problem.

And it comes at no extra charge on most smartphone tariffs, so you won’t have to pay any extra to do it.

It’s not a perfect solution though, as 4G coverage is still lacking in a lot of areas, especially if you’re on any network other than EE and 3G speeds can be rather slow, so you won’t always be able to enjoy a broadband quality connection.

You won’t generally be able to tether when abroad either, because as it uses 3G and 4G data it could rack up some serious roaming charges and it can rapidly eat through your data allowance, especially if you’re using it for a laptop or similar with desktop versions of websites. It’s also a real battery hog.

So it’s worth bearing those things in mind before you start hooking all your devices up to your phones 4G. There are also differences in price and tethering allowances depending on which network you’re on, so keep on reading for details on that.

EE’s tethering terms

On EE you can use your entire data allowance towards tethering if you want and there are a number of other advantages to EE, such as high data limits of up to 20GB and the fact that it has the most widespread 4G network in the UK, with over 75% of the population currently covered.

It’s not quite the cheapest network around though, as for example for 5GB of data, unlimited minutes and unlimited texts on a 12 month SIM only contract you’ll be paying £21.99 per month. Obviously the prices go up substantially for higher data limits too and the most you can get on SIM only is 10GB, which along with unlimited texts and minutes costs £27.99 per month for 12 months.

If you want 20GB then you’ll have to get a new smartphone as part of the package and be paying at least £38.99 per month for 24 months. Then again none of the other major networks even let you use 20GB of 4G data towards tethering.

O2’s tethering terms

If you’re on any recent O2 tariff then you should be able to use all of your data towards tethering, just like on EE. However it’s even more expensive than EE, with 5GB of data, unlimited minutes and unlimited texts costing you £24 per month on a 12 month SIM only contract. That’s around £2 more expensive than an identical tariff on EE and O2’s 4G coverage isn’t as good, so it’s hard to recommend.

The prices don’t get any better if you opt for more data, in fact they get worse, as 8GB along with unlimited minutes and texts will cost you £30 on a 12 month SIM only contract, which is around £2 more than a 10GB tariff on EE.

Vodafone’s tethering terms

If you thought O2’s prices were expensive then you’ll be shocked by Vodafone, which charges £27 per month for 4GB of 4G data, unlimited minutes and unlimited texts on a 12 month SIM only contract. Things get even worse if you want more data, as 10GB with unlimited minutes and texts will set you back £42 each and every month on a 12 month SIM only contract. Like O2 and EE you can use all of your data towards tethering at no extra cost, but given how much it is to begin with Vodafone is the worst of the major networks to go for if tethering is your main concern.

Though in fairness many Vodafone tariffs do include a subscription to Spotify Premium, Netflix or Sky Sports Mobile TV, so you will at least have access to services that you might want to use while tethering.

Three’s tethering terms

Three is the cheapest major network to tether on, with for example a 12 month SIM only contract with unlimited data, 600 minutes and unlimited texts costing just £18 per month. Don’t get too excited by all that data though, as unlike the other networks which allow you to use all of your data towards tethering, Three caps you at 4GB, even if your allowance allows for more.

On pay monthly tariffs with a handset the cap is even lower at 2GB, but you can of course still use the rest of your data allowance on your phone and if you’ve got unlimited data it means that you won’t be exhausting your allowance, so that plus the price means Three is still well worth considering if you can get by on 4GB or less.

Three also has patchy 4G coverage at the moment. Things will improve, but for the time being we’re inclined to say that EE is the best choice overall, for its combination of high data allowances, reasonable prices and great 4G coverage.

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