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|This article relies on references to primary sources. (October 2011)|
Tethering refers to connecting one device to another. In the context of mobile phones or Internet tablets, tethering allows sharing the Internet connection of the phone or tablet with other devices such as laptops. Connection of the phone or tablet with other devices can be done over wireless LAN (Wi-Fi), over Bluetooth or by physical connection using a cable, for example through USB.
If tethering is done over Wi-Fi, the feature may be branded as a Mobile Hotspot. The Internet-connected mobile device can thus act as a portable wireless access point and router for devices connected to it.
Many mobile phones are equipped with software to offer tethered Internet access. Windows Mobile 6.5, Windows Phone 7, Android (starting from version 2.2), and iOS 3.0 (or later) offer tethering over a Bluetooth PAN or a USB connection. Tethering over Wi-Fi, also known as Personal Hotspot, is available on iOS starting with iOS 4.2.5 (or later) on iPhone 4, 4S, 5, iPad (3rd generation), certain Windows Mobile 6.5 devices like the HTC HD2, Windows Phone 7, 8 and 8.1 devices (varies by manufacturer and model), and certain Android phones (varies widely depending on carrier, manufacturer, and software version).
For IPv4 networks, the tethering normally works via NAT on the handset's existing data connection, so from the network point of view, there is just one device with a single IPv4 network address, though it is technically possible to attempt to identify multiple machines.
On some networks, this feature is only contractually available by paying to add a tethering package to a data plan or choosing a data plan that includes tethering. This is done primarily because with a computer sharing the network connection, there may well be a substantial increase in the customer's mobile data use, for which the network may not have budgeted in their network design and pricing structures.
Some network-provided handsets have carrier-specific software that may deny the inbuilt tethering ability normally available on the handset, or only enable it if the subscriber pays an additional fee. Some operators have asked Google or any mobile producer using Android to completely remove tethering support from the operating system on certain handsets. Handsets purchased SIM-free, without a network provider subsidy, are often unhindered with regards to tethering.
There are, however, several ways to enable tethering on affected devices without paying for it, including rooting Android devices or jailbreaking iOS devices and installing a tethering application on the device. Tethering is also available as a downloadable third-party application on most Symbian mobile phones as well as on the MeeGo platform and on WebOS mobiles phones.
|The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United Kingdom and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (December 2012)|
|The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (December 2012)|
Depending on the wireless carrier, a user's phone may have restricted functionality. While tethering may be allowed at no extra cost, some carriers impose a one-time charge to enable tethering and others forbid tethering or impose added data charges. Contracts that advertise "unlimited" data usage often have limits detailed in a Fair usage policy.
In the UK, two tethering-permitted mobile plans offered unlimited data: The Full Monty on T-Mobile, and The One Plan on Three. Three offered tethering as a standard feature until early 2012, retaining it on selected plans. T-Mobile dropped tethering on its unlimited data plans in late 2012.
As cited in Sprint Nextel's "Terms of Service":
Except with Phone-as-Modem plans, you may not use a phone (including a Bluetooth phone) as a modem in connection with a computer, PDA, or similar device. We reserve the right to deny or terminate service without notice for any misuse or any use that adversely affects network performance.
T-Mobile USA has a similar clause in its "Terms & Conditions":
Unless explicitly permitted by your Data Plan, other uses, including for example, using your Device as a modem or tethering your Device to a personal computer or other hardware, are not permitted.
T-Mobile's Simple Family or Simple Business plans offer "Hotspot" from devices that offer that function (such as Apple iPhone) to up to 5 devices. Since 2014-03-27, 1000 GB/month is free in the USA with cellular service. The host device has unlimited slow internet for the rest of the month, and all month while roaming in 100 countries, but with no tethering. For $10 or $20/month more per host device, the amount of data available for tethering can be increased markedly. The host device cellular services can be canceled, added, or changed at any time, pro-rated, data tethering levels can be changed month-to-month, and T-Mobile no longer requires any long-term service contracts, allowing users to bring their own devices or buy devices from them, independent of whether they continue service with them.
As of 2013[update] Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility offer wired tethering to their plans for a fee, while Sprint Nextel offers a Wi-Fi connected "mobile hotspot" tethering feature at an added charge. However, actions by the FCC and a small claims court in California may make it easier for consumers to tether. On July 31, 2012, the FCC released an unofficial announcement of Commission action, decreeing Verizon Wireless must pay US$1.25 million to resolve the investigation regarding compliance of the C Block Spectrum (see US Wireless Spectrum Auction of 2008). The announcement also stated that "(Verizon) recently revised its service offerings such that consumers on usage-based pricing plans may tether, using any application, without paying an additional fee."
In another instance, Judge Russell Nadel awarded Matt Spaccarelli US$850 via the Ventura Superior Court, despite the fact that Spaccarelli had violated his terms of service by jailbreaking his iPhone in order to fully utilize his iPhone's hardware. Spaccarelli demonstrated that AT&T had unfairly throttled his data connection. His data shows that AT&T had been throttling his connection after approximately 2GB of data was used. Spaccarelli responded by creating a personal web page in order to provide information that allows others to file a similar lawsuit, found at http://www.taporc.com, commenting :
Hopefully with all this concrete data and the courts on our side, AT&T will be forced to change something. Let’s just hope it chooses to go the way of Sprint, not T-Mobile.