Tethering, or a personal hotspot as it's sometimes called, can be an enormously useful way to get devices, such as laptops and tablets, online when there's no Wi-Fi available.
All you usually need to do it is a 3G or 4G smartphone with a data allowance, and it's simple to setup. Read on for everything you need to know, including what tethering is, what it can be used for and how you can activate it.
Tethering a 3G or 4G phone means connecting the phone to another device so that the device can use the phone's internet connection to get online. This can be achieved by using a USB connection, and have the phone act as a replacement for a regular modem or router.
Tethering can also be achieved using a wireless Wi-Fi connection or Bluetooth, depending on the connectivity specifications of the equipment that is to be used. Generally, if a device supports Wi-Fi you'll also be able to tether your phone to it wirelessly.
A smartphone makes for an ideal candidate for tethering. Modern smartphones have great connectivity capabilities, making them very capable replacements for regular modems and helping people to get more out of their contracts.
With a smartphone, tethering can go further. The smartphone can act not just as a modem for one computer, but as a hub of connectivity for a whole range of devices all at once. As such, you can use a 3G or 4G smartphone as a replacement for a fully-equipped internet router. Depending on the phone and the contract, high speed web access can be provided to many devices at once.
Tethering on iPhone and Android is functionally much the same, but there are a few differences in getting it set up. On Android you’ll need a device running Android 2.2 or later. If you have an older version you may still be able to do it but you’ll have to rely on a third-party app such as ‘EasyTether’.
Assuming you have a more recent version of Android, head in to ‘Settings’. From there the wording will vary depending on your handset and Android version, but you’re looking for ‘Wireless & Networks’, or ‘Connections’ or similar.
From there, you might see an option called ‘Mobile Network Sharing’, ‘Tethering’, ‘Portable Hotspot’, or something along those lines. If not, look for a ‘More’ option and see if that brings it up.
Once found, tap it and you should be presented with a list of tethering options - Wi-Fi, USB or Bluetooth. Pick the one you want to use, which in most cases will be Wi-Fi (though may be called ‘Mobile hotspot’), then you just choose a network name and password and simply connect to that network from the device that you want to tether it to.
USB and Bluetooth tethering are just as simple, in fact USB tethering works with one tap once you’ve connected the two devices, while Bluetooth tethering works like any other Bluetooth connection and requires you to follow some simple instructions to pair the devices.
To tether an iPhone you’ll need an iPhone 3G or later, then head to ‘Settings’, ‘General’, ‘Network’, select ‘Personal Hotspot’ and activate it. After that you have the same Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or USB options as on Android and the setup process is the same.
For people who like to streamline their subscriptions to services such as web access, multi-tasking with their smartphone as a web hub can be a great way to cut down on organising extra services that they may not need, and reduce the amount of extra equipment that they need to access the web.
It is also very useful for people who need web access on a mobile basis, like laptop users who need to use the internet with programs that they cannot use on a smartphone. Tethering allows them to combine the capability of internet access on the phone with the computing ability of their laptop, removing reliance on internet hotspots and instead allowing full access to the internet anywhere there is a phone signal.
But in short if you have a device that doesn't natively support mobile data there could be an occasion where you'll want to tether your phone to it. Be it to work on your laptop during a commute, or to stream videos on a tablet or even play games on a portable console.
Generally, you'll be tethering portable devices, since it's when you're out and about that you're least likely to have Wi-Fi access. But if the internet ever goes down in your home or office tethering your phone to your PC could be enormously useful.
Tethering is a great way to give your device an internet connection when there’s no Wi-Fi available. If you have a smartphone with a decent data allowance then you can tether it to your laptop on a commute and get some real work done, or tether it to your tablet and stream some films on a larger screen.
It also doesn’t cost any extra, which is a big advantage, plus you should already have everything you need to do it and you can even tether multiple devices to your handset. If you’re tethering to a laptop using a USB cable then you can also charge your phone at the same time.
There are downsides though. For one thing most tariffs don’t come with a huge amount of data and tethering can easily eat through that, especially as you’re likely to be using full desktop versions of sites, which use a lot more data than mobile versions.
As it relies on 3G and 4G it’s often not as fast as a proper Wi-Fi connection either, especially in areas where you only get 3G, and in most cases you won’t be able to do it abroad as it falls under data roaming. It can also drain your phone's battery quite quickly, so bear that in mind if you’re planning on using it heavily.
Plus, some networks don’t allow you to tether (though most do), so this is worth checking before joining a network if tethering is something you’ll want to do.
All in all, it’s a great option to use in an emergency or just from time to time, but whenever possible you should stick to a proper Wi-Fi connection.
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