It’s stating the obvious to say that smartphones have had a huge impact on various aspects in our lives, and a primary cause for the “always connected” society that we’re slowly but surely inching towards. With abundant Wi-Fi and broadband internet services, and data plans from network carriers becoming cheaper, or at least, providing more data at the same price, staying online on a portable handheld device has never been easier. And if you have a 3G/4G-device, and ever find yourself needing to urgently connect to the internet on your laptop or other Wi-Fi only device, you can do so using your smartphone or tablet. That is where “tethering” comes in.
In very simple terms, tethering refers to connecting one device, such as a smartphone or a tablet, to another, such as a laptop, to be able to share the internet connection (3G/4G data connection) of the former with the latter, when a WiFi connection is unavailable. With the current crop of Android smartphones and tablets, tethering, or mobile network sharing, is possible in one of three ways.
With USB tethering, you’ll need to install device drivers on your laptop and PC, and then plug in your smartphone to a USB port, and then use your computer’s connection manager to access your mobile data by setting up your smartphone or tablet as an USB modem. One of the biggest advantages to using USB tethering is that your handheld device will be charged as well when plugged in to your laptop, so there won’t be any battery drainage. But, USB tethering allows for only one-to-one connections, and of course, requires an USB cable.
If you don’t have an USB cable handy, and are looking for longer use, Bluetooth tethering is the option for you. Bluetooth tethering is included as as in-built feature of Android since Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. It’s easy to setup bluetooth tethering, since all you need to do is pair your smartphone to your laptop, and then set up the connection type on your laptop bluetooth settings. While speeds maybe slower (depending on your mobile data connection and bluetooth version) than WiFi tethering, the biggest advantage to Bluetooth tethering is that the battery drain is much lower compared to WiFi tethering. Like USB tethering, only one connection is allowed via bluetooth.
WiFi Tethering, also known as Mobile Hotspot, is the one of the more commonly used forms of tethering, mostly because connections to multiple WiFi-enabled devices is possible. The smartphone or tablet that is connected to a mobile data network can be setup as a WiFi router, allowing for a one-to-many connection type. All you need to do is turn on the Mobile Hotspot on your device, and connect your laptop the same way you would to any other WiFi network. While this option is easy to set up and convenient if you’re looking to connect multiple devices, using WiFi tethering results in a significant drain in battery life.
Mobile network sharing is quick and easy way to get access to the internet on your laptop or PC using your 3G/4G-enabled smartphone or tablet, but can prove to be quite costly, because of the expensive data plans consumers in the US need to subscribe to, since not every plan allows for mobile network sharing.
Here’s a break down of data plans that allow tethering from various US network carriers:
Verizon New postpaid customers on Verizon can only subscribe to the company’s Share Everything plans which include single and multiple device plans, with a pool of “shareable data” which can also be used for tethering. The cost for line access per smartphone is $40 per month, each tablet is $10 per month, added to shareable data plans ranging from $40 per month for 500 MB, up to $375 per month for 50 GB. For example, if you subscribe to the “Single Device on Share Everything” plan and need 2GB of data, your monthly cost will total $100 ($40 for the single line, and $60 for 2GB data). Along with mobile data sharing with multiple WiFi enabled devices, the plan also includes unlimited calls and texts. You can check out Verizon’s Share Everything plans here. If you are on an older contract, you can now use a third-party tethering app free of charge, following FCC’s ruling against Verizon blocking access to third party apps. You can also use Verizon’s Mobile Broadband Connect hotspot feature, which is priced at $20, and also includes 2GB of additional data.
AT&T, like Verizon, has new single and multiple device plans called Mobile Share. In this case, the pricing is a little different, because the line access per device varies according to the data package you subscribe to. For example, if you need 1 GB or 2 GB of data, the cost per smartphone is $45, but for 6 GB of data, the cost becomes $35 per device. Data plans range from $20 for 500 MB, to $500 for 50GB. For example, if you have a single device and require 2GB of data, your monthly cost will be $95 ($45 for line access and $50 for data). Tethering and mobile hotspot use is permitted with Mobile Share plans, provided that such use is limited to a maximum of five additional devices per hotspot device. You can find complete details about the Mobile Share plans here. Unlike Verizon, AT&T still offers its legacy plans to new customers. Not all these plans come with free tethering, with only the 5GB data option ($50 per month) allowing tethering. You can find out more about these legacy plans here.
Sprint Sprint allows tethering for free only with the “My-All-in Plan,” which includes unlimited 5GB of hotspot data and costs $110. With limited hotspot data, it’s important to remember that when mobile hotspot is on, all data usage (phone and hotspot devices) counts against the 5GB data allowance. If you subscribe to the Unlimited, My Way plans, mobile hotspot data charges are $10 for 1 GB, $19.99 for 2 GB, and $49.99 for 6 GB. This is in addition to either a $20 data charge for 1 GB, or $30 data charge for unlimited data.
T-Mobile does not allow mobile tethering plans on it’s single device data plans, even if you pick the unlimited data option. But, the company does feature Smartphone Mobile Hotspot (SMHS) data plans, which saw a change last month, making it more affordable. SMHS data plans start at $20 for 2.5 GB, and up to $70 for 10.5 GB of hotspot data. These hotspot packages also include a new 6.5 GB option as well, priced at $50 per month. You can find out more about T-Mobile Smartphone Mobile Hotspot data plans here.