Mobile Tethering: Good Plan or Waste of Money?

by Brandon Ackroyd - , Last Updated on June 16, 2015, How To Guides

Mobile tethering can be a convenient way to get internet access to a device such as a laptop. However, there’s more to tethering than just hooking up and getting online. We’re here to take a look at the ins and outs of mobile tethering, so that you can decide whether this is a good plan for you or not.

What is Tethering?

We’ll begin with the basics. Say you’ve got a laptop (or some other kind of device that can use an internet connection, such as a tablet), but what you don’t have is an internet connection. Maybe you’re out and about and there’s no WiFi hotspot handy, or maybe you don’t have a broadband connection at home. You can use your mobile phone to get an internet connection on your laptop, in a process known as tethering.

Quite simply you connect your smart phone (you need a data plan for this to work) to your device using WiFi, Bluetooth or a cable, and then you surf the internet on your laptop using the 3G or 4G signal from your mobile phone. Pretty convenient, right? You’ll be able to get online wherever you want. No hunting for WiFi hotspots, no being tied to a broadband cable. Sweet. Hold up a second though…

The Pros and Cons to Tethering

Tethering might be convenient, but there are both good and bad sides to the process. Obviously, a good thing is that you can get an internet connection to your laptop or tablet wherever you have a mobile phone signal. Given that there’s decent 3G coverage in more than 90% of the UK, that means handy internet nearly everywhere. You can also tether more than one device together, which could mean sharing a connection with a friend.

However, there’s a big downside to tethering: cost. Mobile data is expensive, and using your mobile data connection to go online with your laptop can mean eating away at your data limit very quickly indeed. In all cases mobile data will be more expensive than a broadband connection, although if you don’t have a broadband connection available to you, you might not have much choice. Then, of course, mobile data speeds are generally nowhere near as fast as the speeds you’d get on a regular broadband or WiFi connection. That means that downloads will take ages, games will lag, pages will take forever to open and videos will be constantly stopping to buffer. Hardly ideal.

There is another big consideration though: not all UK operators will allow you to tether you mobile, whether that’s a contract phone or a pay as you go hand set.

Tethering With Different Operators

Different operators have different ideas when it comes to tethering. If you’re with Three, O2, Tesco Mobile or Vodafone then you should be fine, since these operators allow tethering with all devices. You’ll need to watch out for those data limits though, as all these networks cap data- there’s currently no unlimited data for tethering available in the UK. And don’t forget, if you go over your monthly data cap you get either a vastly slowed down internet service or you’re subject to some pricey extra charges for using extra data.

Customers of EE (which includes Orange and Tmobile) and GiffGaff will find their tethering options more limited, since these companies only allow tethering from certain kinds of phone. You’ll need to talk to your operator to find out whether or not you’ll be permitted to tether using your mobile.

Finally, there are operators that forbid tethering altogether. Currently the following operators do not allow their customers to use their mobiles for tethering: Sainsbury’s, Talkmobile, Virgin Mobile, Asda Mobile and Shebang.

What happens if you break the rules? You could be subject to a fine, or may lose your mobile contract altogether (though the operator will make sure that you have to pay a hefty contract cancellation fee in this case), so it’s probably best to enquire with your network before attempting to get a tethered internet connection.

Are There Other Options?

There are other means of getting an internet connection without using tethering. You could get a mobile dongle, for example. This is a device that attaches a special SIM card to your laptop or tablet and then allows you to use the operator’s 3G or 4G network to get an internet connection. In basic terms this is the same as mobile tethering, except you don’t need a mobile phone and instead have a special data plan that’s just for your tablet or laptop. In some cases you might not even need a dongle, since many modern tablets and laptops will directly accept a SIM card.

You also have the option of MiFi. Again, this is a device that accepts a SIM card, but this device then broadcasts a signal around a small area that you can use in the same way as a WiFi signal. You’ll need a data contract and a SIM from an operator, but MiFi gives you the advantage of being able to connect more than one laptop or tablet to the same signal.

Tethering: The Verdict

We’re not going to deny that mobile tethering is convenient. If you happen to be away from home, or you really have no other option, then tethering can get you the internet connection that you need on your device. However, it’s really not a long term solution. Given slow speeds and high costs, tethering is a stop gap measure and not one that you should rely on.

There are plenty of isolated occasions when mobile tethering is a great idea, as long as your operator allows you to use it. Just moved house and don’t have the net set up yet? Then use tethering to check that important email (you might want to skip watching Netflix though). In the long run, however, you’ll be way better off (and plenty richer) if you stick to other methods of getting your internet connection.