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Mobile tethering - The complete guide

ByKim Staples
Smartphone and laptop

Need to get online when you’re on the go, but your phone screen is just far too small? Time to get tethering. Here’s how you can turn your smartphone into a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot and get any gadget connected to the internet.

What is tethering?

On a lot of smartphones, there's an option to use your phone as a mobile hotspot - basically a little wireless modem or router. This means that when it's connected to 4G or 3G, it also emits a Wi-Fi signal that other gadgets can connect to. Those gadgets can then use the internet via your phone's mobile broadband.

Think of it as a leash that connects your gadget (say, a laptop) to your mobile, and then to the internet.

Internet --> smartphone --> laptop

You can also literally tether your phone to your computer with a USB cable and use mobile broadband that way - though using Wi-Fi is often much simpler, cleaner, and frankly just cooler.

Tethering is handy in all kinds of situations:

  • It's perfect for when you're out and about  - or on a train - and need to use your laptop or tablet, download an e-book to your Kindle, or get some work done
  • It's a useful backup if your home internet goes down
  • It lets you help out a friend who's run out of mobile data

If you think you're going to be tethering quite a lot, it's worth getting a SIM with a lot of data. This deal from Three comes with 30GB worth of personal hotspot data each month, so you can always rely on your phone to get your laptop online while on the move. Alternatively, you might just want a SIM with a lot of data, like one of these from O2.

When you connect to the internet via tethering, anything you do comes out of your mobile data allowance. That goes for browsing, email, snapchatting, streaming, uploading to social media, Skype calls - everything.

That said, if you think you're going to be therering a lot, you might want to consider a SIM that gives you a bit more data, as you can burn through it quite fast. Trust us, the time (and data) just flies by.

Keep a beady eye on how much data you've got left, or you could be left in the lurch. Most networks will allow you to buy a data add-on if you need extra.

If you're going to be going online a lot, consider a mobile hotspot or dongle, both of which can get you online in a quick, cheap and effective way. They both use 4G and can slip into a pocket or bag. Neato.

Sitting with laptop and phone

Tethering policies by mobile network

Different networks have different rules about whether you can use your mobile data for tethering or not. Some even have different policies depending on whether you're on contract or pay-as-you-go (PAYG) - find your network on the table below for details.

Network Can I tether?
Asda Mobile Yes - you can use your data allowance for tethering, though there's no 4G on Asda Mobile so you may get slow speeds
BT Mobile No
EE Yes - you can tether on both contract and PAYG plans
FreedomPop Yes - but only if you have Premier or FreedomPop Wi-Fi Hotspot service activated; and if you're on an Unlimited Everything plan, you can't tether once the throttling starts
giffgaff Yes - you can use your data allowance for tethering; though on the 4G Always On plan, tethering is limited to 6GB
iD Mobile No
Lycamobile No
O2 Yes - but only on a contract plan
TalkTalk Mobile Yes - you can use your data allowance for tethering
Three Yes - but only on Advanced plans; All-You-Can-Eat data plans have a limit for tethering, so check what yours is first; older plans may require you to buy a tethering add-on
TPO Mobile No
Virgin Mobile No
Vodafone Yes - you can tether on both a contract plan or PAYG

If you want to tether on a pay-as-you-go plan, be careful - pay-as-you-go data can get expensive very fast. Buy a data add-on if you can, even if it's just a small one: 500MB will easily get you through a couple of hours of browsing.

How do I tether?

1. First of all, make sure you're able to use tethering. Check your network on the table above, and check your smartphone's manual for the mobile hotspot function.

2. Turn on mobile hotspot on your phone.

  • To tether on an iPhone: Go to Settings - Personal Hotspot, or Settings - General - Network - Personal Hotspot. Slide the switch to On.
  • To tether on an Android: Go to Settings - Wireless and networks - Tethering and portable hotspot. Tick the box for Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot. This may vary depending on your phone, so give it a google or check your phone's manual if you can't find the right setting.

3. If you want to, adjust the mobile hotspot settings. We recommend changing the SSID (the name of your Wi-Fi network) and the password, as this will make your connection more secure.

4. Turn on Wi-Fi on your computer, tablet, or whichever device you want to connect. Your mobile hotspot should come up in the list of networks available to connect to - select it and enter the password, just like any other Wi-Fi network.

5. You're online! Time to surf the information superhighway. Or check train times, or download a spreadsheet, or whatever.


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