Tethering on UK Networks: Which Mobile Phone Operators Allow Tethering?
Most of us spend a fair amount of time online these days. But if you don’t have a stable internet connection, or you travel a lot, or you have a long commute, getting online might not be as easy as you wish it was. And that’s where mobile tethering comes in. What is it? How does it work? Are you allowed to do it? We’ve got the answers to all those and more with our guide to mobile tethering.
What is Mobile Tethering?
Mobile tethering is a pretty easy concept. Your phone as a data connection, either 3G or 4G, that allows it to get online. The idea of tethering is that when you want to get your laptop, tablet, or another device online and you don’t have a wifi or broadband connection, you can use your phone to piggyback on that 3G/4G connection. Actually, you don’t even need your phone in some cases, all you need is a data plan from a mobile operator, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
Which UK Networks Allow Tethering?
The table below provides a quick overview of which networks and tariffs you can tether on. We also go into more depth on each network's specific policy at the bottom of this page.
|Mobile Network||Pay Monthly Tethering||Pay As You Go Tethering|
|FreedomPop||N/A||Only with £3.99/month add-on|
|The Phone Co-Op||Yes||Yes|
N/A means the network currently doesn't offer those types of deals e.g. Giffgaff does not offer pay monthly contracts.
How Does Tethering Work?
There are three ways of tethering, though only one of these is really traditionally considered to be tethering:
- You can use your phone as a portable wifi hotspot that allows you to connect another device and still use your normal mobile data plan. You can usually find this option in your settings menu under something like “wireless and networks” but you can skip down to the next section for more info.
- You can get a wireless dongle from a mobile operator (or an electronics store). This looks like a USB stick and you plug it into your device. The dongle contains a SIM card that has a data only plan and you use this to get online.
- You can get a MiFi device from a mobile operator (or an electronics store). These are larger and more expensive than dongles but allow more than one device to be connected to the portable wifi hotspot it sets up. Again, there’ll be a SIM card with a data only mobile plan attached to it.
Any of these three ways will get you online, though traditionally only the first method is considered real tethering. Each has its pros and cons, so you’ll need to choose carefully. Using your phone is easy and requires no extra hardware, but you can run through your mobile data limit pretty fast and some operators do not allow tethering at all (more on that later). Using either a dongle or a MiFi from a mobile operator with a data only SIM should be fine, you should get a decent online connection, but you’ll be required to invest in the equipment as well as paying another monthly bill for that data only SIM.
How to Tether Your Smartphone
There may be some small differences between actual models of phones, but the basics of using your mobile as an internet hotspot are fairly simple. There are two ways of tethering your phone, either by using a USB cable or by setting up a wifi hotspot. Using your phone as a wifi hotspot does drain your phone’s battery very quickly. However, by using a USB connection your phone will be charging whilst its plugged into your device, so it’s probably best to go with USB unless you have a real reason not to.
If You’re on Android
If you’re using Android then to create a USB connection plug your phone into your computer using a USB cable. Open up your settings menu, scroll down to the “more” option (in some of the newest phones you may need to choose the “networks” option), then hit “tethering and mobile hotspot” and you’re done. Your computer or tablet should recognize your phone as a modem and you should be online.
To create a mobile wifi hotspot on Android just head into your settings menu, choose “network and internet” and then “hotspot and tethering” and toggle on “wifi hotspot.” If you’re doing this for the first time you’ll then need to hit “set up wifi hotspot” to add a password and find out the name of your new wireless network. Once done you should be able to find your phone’s hotspot name under the list of wifi connections available on your tablet or laptop.
If You’re on an iPhone
To make a USB connection on your iPhone open up your settings menu and hit “personal hotspot” then click “USB only” on the pop-up menu that appears. Then plug your phone into your device with a USB cable and you should be good to go (it may take your device a minute or two to recognize the internet connection).
To make a wifi hotspot go into the settings menu, hit “mobile data” then “set up personal hotspot.” You’ll be prompted to give your wifi network a name and password, so just follow the instructions. Once your hotspot is set up for the first time you can turn it on any time by going into the settings menu, choosing “personal hotspot” and then hitting “turn on wifi and Bluetooth” on the pop-up menu that appears. Again, you should then be able to find your network name on the list of available wifi connections on your device.
What are the Pros and Cons?
The main advantage of tethering is pretty obvious. You get to go online anywhere that you have mobile reception (which according to OFCOM should be across approximately 98% of the UK). This is great if you’re travelling or commuting, and perfect if you live in an area that doesn’t offer home broadband services. And if you’re in rented or student accommodation, tethering means that you can go online without having to commit to a long-term broadband contract.
There are disadvantages though. Generally, internet speeds will be slower using tethering than if you were using broadband or traditional wifi. This is simply because 3G and 4G data speeds aren’t as fast as most broadband connections. And then there’s the cost. Mobile data is expensive, and tethering is no exception to that rule. If you are able to get a broadband connection then it will almost certainly be cheaper than using tethering. Finally, there’s the fact that some mobile operators do not allow tethering with their plans.
Does My Network Allow Tethering?
Whether or not you can tether depends on your network. If you get a dongle or MiFi from an operator then obviously that plan will allow tethering. For users wanting to tether from their regular SIM cards through their phones though, the rules are different. Below are the rules regarding tethering for the UK’s main operators:
Allowed on PAYG and Pay Monthly Contracts
Tethering is included in your plan as part of your data allowance. The plan you purchased will have a data allowance which you can use to access the internet on your phone, use apps on your phone or use your phone as a portable hotspot to tether.
O2 don't seem to like the idea of tethering, but they do allow it, they say:
We don't recommend using your phone as a personal hotspot. Sims on standard mobile tariffs are designed for calls, texts and general use, like daily browsing. They're not made for being used as or in a mobile broadband device, as this eats up a lot of data. If you do need to use your smartphone as a personal hotspot on a one-off basis, you can share your data signal with other smartphones, laptops, iPads and tablets.
Tesco says the following:
If your tariff has a data allowance included, you can use your device as a personal hotspot at no extra cost. If you don’t have a data allowance, or you go over your data allowance, you’ll be charged our standard rates.
Three's policy on tethering changed in 2014 as it used to be capped, this was lifted and they say:
You can use Personal Hotspot on all our current Advanced Pay Monthly phone and SIM plans. This included Pay Monthly plans taken out or upgraded since March 2014, and SIM plans taken out or upgraded since July 2014, but doesn’t include our Essential plans. Personal Hotspot is available on Pay As You Go using the data available with an add-on, or by converting your cash to credit at the unbeatable rates of 1p/MB . Customers with an Unlimited data allowance can use this as a Personal Hotspot anywhere in the UK. If you don’t have Unlimited data, you can check your remaining data allowance on the Allowance page in My3.
Vodafone's terms don't mention tethering but they have a dedicated section within their help pages titled: How do I share my device’s data connection through a personal hotspot or tethering? which is a sure fire sign it's allowed.
Tethering is not explicitly mentioned in any of Virgin Mobile's documentation or terms. However, it is it permitted on all their 4G plans.
Allowed on PAYG Only
Giffgaff's tethering policy is simple, they say:
Tethering is allowed on all our goodybags and airtime credit (PAYG). If you tether with a goodybag using your data allowance, your Internet data allowance is shared between all connected devices. If you use up your data allowance before the goodybag expires, we will send a notification to your device to let you know. You will then be charged at 2p per MB from airtime credit balance (PAYG) for the remaining life of your goodybag, but once your goodybag expires standard rates for mobile data will apply. If you have no goodybag and still want to tether using your airtime credit (PAYG) then you will be charged at standard rates for mobile data. If you tether using your airtime balance (PAYG) you'll be able to do so until your credit runs out.
Yes, a 1pMobile SIM will allow you to share your phone’s 3G/4G data connection. However, you will need to check with your handset manufacturer to confirm that your phone supports tethering. At our standard rate, you will be charged 1p per each MB of data used whilst tethering. Alternatively, you can use data included in one of our 30-day data boosts.
You can use your Mobile phone as a personal hotspot if your device allows this; this allows you to access the internet on another device using your Asda Mobile data.
You can tether another phone, laptop or tablet to your phone and your endless social data will still apply when using those apps or websites on the other device. The same goes for the apps and websites included in your endless video and music passes. When you tether to devices such as your video game console, TV, Chromecast, Roku, or Fire TV Stick, the data used will come out of your general data allowance.
Allowed on Pay Monthly Only
Does BT Mobile support tethering? Yes it does. Tethering is where you set up your phone as a personal hotspot so other devices like laptops and tablets can use it to connect to the internet. Here's how to turn tethering on and off for Android phones, Windows phones and iPhones. When you’re using your phone as a personal hotspot you’re using the monthly data allowance that's on your mobile plan. So make sure that you have enough data left each month before tethering your devices. To stop any unexpected bills we also recommend that you turn off your personal hotspot when you’re not using it.
Tethering lets you use your mobile phone as a personal Wi-Fi hotspot. The cost for this will comes out of your monthly allowance, once you’ve used all your inclusive data you will be charged our standard out-of-plan charges. This feature is ready to use, just make sure your phone supports it and go into the handset settings to turn it on.
Sky don't mention tethering policies in their terms, but users in their community forums have no issues and their community managers post frequently to help users tether.
You’re entitled to use your data however you like, no matter which of the SMARTY plans you're on, so you can tether and use your phone as a mobile hot spot with your full allowance if you want to.
FreedomPop only allows tethering if you purchase a special £3.99 add-on, and several networks do not allow tethering at all, including:
Please note that we do not allow tethering on any of our current plans. If you do use this service it is likely to use up large amounts of your data allowance very quickly, and you will be liable to pay any charge that may occur if you go over your allowance. Please check for updates on our website as this may change in the future.
Unfortunately, you cannot use your device as a modem to share your data connection with other devices.
It is our current policy at the moment that we do not allow tethering; this is so we can protect network speeds for all our customers.
What are the Best Phone Plans for Tethering?
As we mentioned above, one of the disadvantages of tethering is that it’s so expensive and it can rapidly use up your monthly data limit. That means that it’s especially important that you find a good, affordable plan that has a decent amount of data for your needs and in some cases, a data only sim could make sense. Depending on how much data you’re looking for, we’ve found a selection of the best plans that can be used for mobile tethering.
Plans with around 2 GB of Data
2GB of data is really the minimum that you should be looking for if you’re going to be tethering. These are light user plans, so really best for those that are just looking for an additional connection every now and then and who don’t intend to depend on tethering to get online. The cheapest plans around are:
- Smarty: unlimited calling minutes and texts plus 2 GB of data for just £7.50 a month
- GiffGaff: 250 calling minutes and unlimited texts plus 2 GB of data for just £7.50 a month
- Vodafone: unlimited calling minutes and texts plus 3 GB of data for £8 a month
- Virgin Mobile: 1500 calling minutes, unlimited texts plus 2 GB of data for £9 a month
Plans with around 4 GB of Data
If you’re a little more dependent on tethering and you’re looking to connect a couple of times a week or so, then you’ll need a little more data. Here are the best medium data plans for tethering:
- Vodafone: unlimited calling minutes and texts plus 6 GB of data for £10 a month
- Tesco Mobile: 1000 calling minutes, 5000 texts plus 5 GB of data for £10 a month
- Smarty: unlimited calling minutes and texts plus 4 GB of data for £10 a month
- Three: unlimited calling minutes and texts plus 4 GB of data for £11 a month
Plans with around 8 GB of Data
If you’re planning on using tethering regularly, perhaps during your commute to work, then you’ll be looking for big data plans. Here are some of the best plans that give you plenty of data:
- Tesco Mobile: 5000 calling minutes, 5000 texts, plus 10 GB of data for £13.50 a month
- Three: unlimited calling minutes and texts plus 8 GB of data for £14 a month
- Smarty: unlimited calling minutes and texts plus 8 GB of data for £15 a month
- O2: unlimited calling minutes and texts plus 10 GB of data for £17 a month
For PAYG Customers
If you’re on PAYG then your best bet is going to be to buy a bundle from an operator, rather than using more traditional pay per MB of data used. These bundles give you a certain amount of minutes, texts and data for one price that you can then use as you wish, though in some cases there may be a time limit (the bundle is valid only for 30 days, for example). The best PAYG bundles for tethering are:
- Giffgaff: unlimited calling minutes and texts plus 3 GB of data for £10
- Asda Mobile: 600 calling minutes, unlimited texts plus 3 GB of data for £10
- Tesco Mobile: 500 calling minutes, 5000 texts, plus 3 GB of data for £10
- O2: 500 calling minutes, 5000 texts, plus 2 GB of data for £10
- EE: 1000 calling minutes, unlimited texts plus 2 GB of data for £10
Take a look at the best PAYG SIM deals available right now.
What About MiFi and Dongles?
If you’re looking into MiFi and mobile dongles then you’re going to be looking at signing a monthly contract with an operator, generally a two-year contract, which will give you the dongle or MiFi device you need plus a data only SIM. These contracts change price often and you can usually find discounts for signing up online. But currently the best offers around are:
For Mobile Dongles
- O2: wireless dongle plus 6 GB of data monthly on a 24-month contract for £10.50 a month
- Vodafone: wireless dongle plus 2 GB of data monthly on a 24-month contract for £11 a month plus £20 up front
- Vodafone: wireless dongle plus 15 GB of data monthly on a 12-month contract for £15 a month
For MiFi Devices
- O2: MiFi device plus 2 GB of data monthly on a 24-month contract for £12 a month
- EE: MiFi device plus 30 GB of data monthly on a 24-month contract for £20 a month
- EE: MiFi device plus 5 GB of data monthly on a 24-month contract for £13 a month
A Simple Connection
Using mobile data to get yourself online isn’t always the cheapest or the fastest option. It is, however, a great way to get online when you don’t have access to a broadband connection or a traditional wifi hotspot. And with 3G mobile coverage across the UK at around 98% you can be sure of getting a solid internet connection pretty much everywhere!