Smartphones today come with a multitude of great features that can truly enhance your online life. One of the best features — and sometimes the most costly — is called tethering. Tethering is one of the most useful features of an iPhone or Android device, allowing you to connect devices like your laptop or tablet to the internet through your smartphone.
Since smartphone use became prevalent, the ability to use tethering has come with extra charges imposed by cellular carriers, even though tethering uses the same data that allows you to check your email or surf the web on your phone. Thanks to the FCC, however, these fees may soon be a thing of the past.
Simply put, tethering allows you to share the internet connection of one device with other devices. Most modern Android devices, along with the iPhone and iPad (3G or 4G versions), allow you to connect several devices at once.
Tethering can be used over USB, bluetooth, or wifi. For instance, if you have a wifi-only iPad and a 4G Android smartphone, you can share your phone’s 4G connection with your iPad, letting you connect it to the internet even when you don’t have wifi access.
How do I use tethering?
In most instances, tethering is very simple to use. The iPhone and iPad (3G and 4G versions) have the feature built right into the iOS software. Android devices have a great selection of third-party apps available through Google Play. Tethering can refer to connecting one device to your phone or turning your phone into a so-called “mobile hotspot” that broadcasts a wifi signal that multiple devices can utilize.
Beyond putting your phone to good use, standalone devices also known as mobile wifi hotspots (often called MiFis by carriers) are created solely for the purpose of tethering. Mobile wifi hotspots are sold with two-year contracts and data plans or as prepaid devices. The major benefit of a mobile hotspot is preserving your device’s battery life, since tethering can drain the battery of your smartphone or tablet much more quickly than normal use.
Most carriers charge about $15 to $20 a month for tethering on top of your existing smartphone data plan. This seems to be changing, thanks to a settlement between Verizon and the FCC. Carriers such as Verizon have been blocking third-party tethering apps from Google Play and forcing users to pay for tethering on top of their existing data plans, even though tethering utilizes the same data as, say, using your phone to check your email.
These restrictions seem to be loosening under new shared data plans from Verizon and AT&T. Both carriers now charge for tethering the same as any other data usage, with no extra charge on top of your existing data plan.
Mobile hotspots can be a little more expensive, depending on how much data you use. Plans can run anywhere from $15 a month for 250MB of data on a prepaid plan to $110 a month for 20GB of data with a two-year contract from Verizon.
Do I need tethering?
With abundant wifi, few people actually need tethering on a consistent basis, and most won’t enjoy the extra charges that can come with it. That said, tethering can be a great help if you frequently have multiple devices with you and no wifi connection handy. With the arrival of new data plans from the two biggest carriers in America favoring download-intensive uses, however, tethering is poised to become much more common among smartphone users.
Micah Singleton is a technology journalist and author. Micah is the founder and editor-in-chief of Current Editorials and associate editor for Tecca. He is the author of Anonymous: The Internet’s Bouncer and Waning Influence: The iPhone’s Social Position and The Rise of Android, both of which are available on Amazon. Micah has written for or been syndicated to Yahoo, ReadWriteWeb, Mashable, Black Web 2.0, and more. Tecca is a next-generation personal electronics information and shopping service. We bring together the web’s leading content, commerce, and community features to provide comprehensive solutions for consumers’ ever-growing technology needs. Think of us as that tech savvy friend who helps you when you have questions about what to buy, what to pay, how to make the most of you already have, and when it’s time to upgrade. Get to know us on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook.