Using your mobile as a modem – internet tethering

After a Which? member complained to us that he’d been charged extra for tethering his mobile to a laptop, we decided to investigate whether this is common practice across the networks.

What is mobile tethering?

Tethering means connecting another device – such as a laptop – to your phone and allowing it to access the internet through your mobile’s data connection.

The spread of smartphones has made this feature increasingly popular, especially as many models can now use their wi-fi connectivity to act as a hotspot, sharing their internet connection with other wi-fi enabled gadgets.

How do the mobile networks treat tethering?

The first thing our investigation discovered was just how hard it is to find clear information about the networks’ approach to tethering.

While most of their websites do provide basic information, this is often tricky to find or fails to include a comprehensive explanation.

We therefore decided to contact the major networks directly to get confirmation of their policies.

Extra charges

If you’re a Vodafone* customer then you have two options. The first of these is to buy a ‘tethering pack’. This costs £15 and provides you with 2GB of data to use with other devices – go over this and it will cost you an extra £15 for each additional 1GB. If you don’t want to buy a tethering pack then you can still tether your device, although you will be charged £5 for each day you use the service.

T-Mobile has a similar policy, charging an extra £10 a month for 1GB of tethering data. Unlike the other networks its PAYG customers can also get in on the action, with a variety of packages ranging from £2 for 250MB of data.

Orange too sells additional tethering bundles, starting at £5.10 for 500MB. However these bundles are restricted to iPhone users. This means that customers that have bought other smartphones won’t be able to use them for tethering.

The alternative

O2 used to charge for tethering, but earlier this year it changed its tariffs for new customers. Now tethering comes included in all its data packages at no extra cost.

3 charges  for tethering on most of its contracts – but it is included in its One Plan that offers unlimited internet. This makes it a fantastic choice if you want to regularly share your internet connection.

Our view

The operators justify their charges on the grounds that they give the users extra data. However this fails to take into account the fact that almost all smartphones already come with inclusive data allowances, much of which never gets used.

At Which? Mobile we feel it’s completely unfair that Vodafone, T-Mobile and Orange won’t allow you to use the data allowance that you’ve already paid for when you want to tether your mobile and instead force you to buy even more data that you may not want.

Some potentially good news is that Vodafone told us that it was in the process of reviewing its data and tethering policy and will introduce new plans shortly – although it was too early to give us any further details.

And it’s great to see that O2 and 3 offer an alternative approach. So if you’re thinking about buying a new phone, and plan to tether it to your laptop on a regular basis, you may want to look at their tariffs first.

*[Update] Since June 1 2011, Vodafone’s new data plans no longer include charges for tethering – existing customers can have their data plans transferred without extending their contract, as long as their monthly payment stays the same or is larger.

24 replies

  1. Vodafone currently charges me £5 for each 500MB of tethering. If I don’t use it I don’t get charged. I thought this was standard, not £15 for 2GB.

  2. Getting confused here. Can you confirm that using an IPhone on my home router costs nothing? Same thing to using it on a free outside wi-fi router?

    1. Hi Roderick,

      Yes using your iPhone on your home router is free.

      Tethering would be using the phone as a router itself and using another device – such as a laptop – to access the internet through the phones connection, rather than your home line.

      Hope that helps.

  3. Whilst I’m not advocating breaching contracts, I am wondering how on earth the ISP would know that the phone is being used in this way – wouldn’t it all show up under the account allocated to the phone? What if you just didn’t tell them?

    1. My iPhone has the ability to act as a wifi hotspot – but it isn’t available unless I have my ISP’s permission. Hopefully, Which? will continue to update their information on tethering; as soon as my contract expires I shall be looking for a phone operator that allows tethering.

  4. 3 are great! Inclusive data for tethering. I checked their customer service to confirm. How can other providers even think of charging once you’re already paying through a data contract?

    1. In UK – 3G is the best provider !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      Unlimited internet on my iPhone and on laptop (tethering).
      I download files, watch youtube videos on laptop. And speed is great too.

  5. I have an HTC Desire, and an Orange contract (unlimited data). I cannot tether my phone to my laptop (unless phone is on WiFi).

    I spoke to Orange today. They say it’s HTC’s fault and to speak to them. They said it was HTC software that prevented tethering (no talk of additional tariffs etc). They implied the problem is only for (all) HTC phones.

    Orange are seriously rubbish, unhelpful and bullying. Next year new provider.

    1. Hello Martyn

      I have an old HTC Wildfire and I tether to my tablet very easily doing this . In fact I am useing it now to send this reply . Infact the phone came with a tethering app already install .

      All phones with 3G can tether . You should have the app on your phone to do this .

  6. I read the above with interest and rang vodafone to ask about the revision to their tariffs allowing free tethering and if it applied to my contract. The answer I received was a resounding no. I was advised that free tethering only appled to contracts over £40 ( mine is for £20). This they said applied to new customers as well as existing customers like my self.

    I would welcome comments on this

    Phil Anthony

    1. I was reading through some of these comments and vodafone tethering…i suppose it really depends on who you get from customer services to sort it out for you, i rang them a while ago and asked same questions i combined vodafone euro-traveller with £10 bundles to tethering each, or £60 per month its very expensive but if you need it you got to pay it.

  7. Is there a case for Ofcom here? Surely they can’t charge you extra simply because you choose to use the data you have already paid for in a way they don’t like?

    Example, I bought a really nice car which natively has a trailer hook. However, the supplier of the car charge me extra whenever I attach my trailer, because they don’t like trailers, or they make me buy one of their trailers and then change me a little less extra.

    Simply does not make sense!

  8. 3 DOES charge for tethering – an extra £5 for 1GB. Plus, you can’t buy further data in any one month.

    The only contract that does allow tethering by default is their ONE unlimited plan.

    Seems odd for them to disallow tethering with contracts that have capped data. After all, if I reached my data limit by tethering to my laptop, it’s my own fault and I’d have to pay 3 handsomely for more data.

  9. I am having 600 m and all you can eat data plan and unable to use Tethering.When I contact customer support they informed me that.,Now 3 mobile do not allow tethering to any customers outside The one-plan. In any other plan if we need tethering we have to buy tethering pack with additional payment.

  10. hi i tethered my blackberry on my pc via vodafone prepay internet i have a £20 pack with web access and have far exceeded 2gbs of data i have a payg sim and i am still using tethering on the same pack i was wondering how they would charge me for using this extra data as they do not have my cc details or my address ??

  11. I have o2 Blackberry Unlimited on my pay monthly tariff. I recently purchased a new Blackberry and was interested in it’s ‘Mobile Hotspot/Tethering’ feature. I was shocked to discover that I was being charged when using my Blackberry for this purpose. I contacted o2 and expressed my confusion since I have an Unlimited Tariff and they explained that when you use the mobile hotspot/tethering feature, this is not included in your allowance. They did credit me back but I think it’s fair to say that this issue does cause a lot of confusion for consumers in general. I also think that the mobile operators should make it quite clear in simple terms as to what you will and will not be charged for.

  12. I wish to enter the mobile internet age. I am considering getting a cheapish android smart phone, for on-the-go internet and apps, and a netbook to tether it to when I have more serious work to do and need a keyboard and larger screen eg on the train. i do not need a new mobile phone, so the smart phone will only be used as a pocket-sized internet browser and for tethering. I see that the GiffGaff gigabags allow tethering, bit I’m not clear whether a smart phone has to have a phone contract to access apps, or whether a data-only SIM will suffice. Any help welcomed!

  13. I’m with 3 and on PAYG £15 a month gives me unlimited internet 300 mins and 3000 texts…. I bough the HTC Wildfire back when they did £100 deal on them (about 30 months back)… On buying the phone I asked if tethering was allowed in the shop and was told “Yes”…. At one point early on I was told by 3 that tethering wasn’t allowed… I argued that the phone and sim was sold to me “with tethering” by their shop and that I would go to OFTEL if they switched it off… and I’m still using it as my main connection and at a reasonable speed despite it saying “internet is not to be used as a modem” on the leaflet that came with the phone.
    I certainly hold the sim in high value !!

  14. I have the Ultimate Internet 1000 with “3” which gives me all you can eat data plan and for some reason the blackberry icon which was next to network icon is disappeared and when I enter the browser says something about tether and is not let me to do anything with network. I cant receive or send emails etc etc etc.

  15. I have an O2 contract that allows tethering within my data allowance and a Samsung Galaxy Y that can be used as either a mobile wifi hotspot or as a USB modem.

    I think any phone with Android 2.3 or later can be used in this way.

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