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Connecting to the internet with your cell phone can be done in several ways, depending on what is allowed by your cell phone company.

I'm not sure I understand how to tether the laptop to my iPhone. Can you explain more please? Do I use the cord that came with the phone and after disconnecting the "box-ey" end that goes into the electrical outlet for charging, I plug the USB connection into the laptop? Is that how I tether my laptop to the phone?

In this excerpt from Answercast #46, I look at several ways to use your smartphone as a connection to the internet... depending on your plan with your cell company.

Tether an iPhone

In theory, it is just as simple as connecting your phone to your PC using the USB cord that came with the phone (or in many cases now, a generic USB cord will connect a phone to a laptop.)

And this doesn't just apply to iPhones. It applies to pretty much all mobile phones.

Your service plan

Here's the problem. It's more than just a technical issue: in many cases, the ability to tether your phone is a function of the service plan that you've signed up for with your mobile provider.

  • Many don't allow you to do it.

  • Many allow you to do it, but only for an extra monthly charge;

  • And some will allow you to do it regardless with what you're already paying.

On top of that, depending on whether your phone has been rooted or not, it may be possible to piggyback a tethered connection onto an existing service contract without the phone company knowing about it. Clearly, that violates their terms of services in many cases, although there have been legal arguments against it. But in most cases, obviously the phone companies just don't like it.

If you have the right plan

So, in concept, it is just that simple. Tethering is simply a means of using your phone as a modem, as a way to connect to the internet.

  • You tether it by connecting it using a USB cable (or in some cases a Bluetooth connection, which would be wireless);

  • And then having your PC access the internet through your mobile phone's data connection.

Mobile wi-fi hotspot

There's another option and that happens to be the option that I use.

This is an extra cost option again. Depending on your provider, you may or may not have this available, and it may or may not cost you extra.

My phone, an Android phone, has the ability to create its own Wi-Fi hotspot. What that means is that:

  • When you enable this on the phone, the phone connects to the internet using the mobile data network.

  • It then sets up this little Wi-Fi hotspot that you can connect your laptop to like any other Wi-Fi hotspot.

What I failed to mention about the USB or tethering options is that very often you need to run software on the computer that actually knows how to connect to the phone in this tethered mode. By using your phone as a wireless hotspot, the computer doesn't really need to know any of that:

  • It just sees another wireless access point become available;

  • And you connect to it just like any other wireless access point.

So, it's a very simple concept using your phone as a way to connect to the internet. But it definitely gets complicated by the various options that are available and the various complexities imposed by the mobile cellular providers.

Article C5721 - August 22, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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1 Comment
Peter Mackin
August 28, 2012 1:46 PM

Leo, my understanding is that PDAnet will allow you to tether an android phone (and maybe others) without needing a tethering option from your mobile phone provider even if it is technically required by your provider. You do need the data plan for the phone, but that is it. The only downside is PDAnet is not free, but its one time cost is far less than the ongoing monthly tethering charge.

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