Cell Phone Tethering for Free Wifi

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Last week, I wrote about proper etiquette when using free Wifi hotspots. What if you didn’t have to bother with that? For occasional internet access on the go, you could try tethering to your smartphone data plan.

Tethering is the act of pairing your phone to your wireless (or otherwise internet enabled device) to use the phone’s data plan to connect to the internet. By tethering, you can avoid paying for an expensive wireless card or wifi access fees, and you don’t have to make a trip to your local Starbucks/McDonalds/library to access it. Meanwhile, you aren’t stuck writing your blog posts or emails on your tiny phone screen.

When I wrote about wifi etiquette, John from The Money Principle mentioned that he usually just tethers. I responded that tethering was not available on my phone. It turns out that I was wrong!

Many cell phone carriers are forcing phone manufacturers to hobble their phones to disable tethering. They do this so they can charge you for a data plan for a separate device and get you to buy that device exclusively from them as well!

Wifi Tethering

One way of tethering is to use your phone to create a mobile hotspot. It uses the wifi ability of your phone to act as a transmitter instead of a receiver. If your phone doesn’t have its native ability to do this disabled by your carrier, then it is as simple as going through your phone settings.

If you don’t see “Tethering” in your Wireless & network settings, you will have to do a little more work. If you search the app store, you will find dozens of free and paid tethering apps. Many of these would require rooting (hacking it to return it to its full native capability) your phone, but not all of them do. My brother knows more about these things than I do and he recommends FoxFi. There is a free and a paid version. The free version requires periodic restarts, so isn’t really suitable for streaming videos.

USB Tethering

The other way to tether is via the USB connection. If your phone doesn’t seem to want to work in WiFi tethering mode, try this one. By not using the wifi connection on your phone, you will extend the battery life and your phone will even charge off your computer as you use it. The downsides are that you need to install a companion program on your computer and that you have to be using a computer. You can’t use this to tether your game console (although why anyone would ever want to play Halo over s 3G connection is beyond me).

The makers of FoxFi have a USB version called PDANet+. Again, free version requires occasional reconnections.If you use a linux computer (like my laptop), they don’t have a companion program for you. Instead, try EasyTether. Instead of requiring you to disconnect and reconnect, the free version of EasyTether blocks UDP and SSL connections. UDP is used  by file sharing programs and some games. SSL is the https connection used for logging into things like email or bank accounts. Using it for a day, I’ve noticed that all Google pages time out, regardless of whether they are a secure connection or not.

Of course, your internet connection is still going to be the speed of your phone’s 4G, 3G, or even 2G data speeds. Not really good for multitasking by streaming audio while surfing the web. And you are using your phone’s data plan, so keep an eye on your data limit.

Have you ever tried tethering? What was your experience with it?

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20 thoughts on “Cell Phone Tethering for Free Wifi

    • There are ways around it. When T-Mobile changed their policy to be anti-tethering, my father-in-law switched browsers andstopped getting the message in the browser blocking him from surfing.

  1. I think I looked into that a year ago for my phone and I couldn’t do it without having to pay a monthly subscription at the time. That’d be nice if they’ve removed that paid restriction, although I don’t really have a need to tether these days. It definitely is much easier typing on a laptop than on a smart phone though!

  2. I’ve always shied away from tethering my phone because its a great way to go flying past your data limits without even realizing it. If you use it sparingly and only when you’re in a pinch it can be handy, but definitely keep an eye on your data usage.

  3. I’ve tethered my tablet on the bus before. I didn’t get a wifi with data ability because I knew my cellphone had the ability to become a wifi hotspot.

    It wasn’t fantastic, but it worked, and that’s all I needed at the time!
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