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Tethering - Having Your Cell Phone
Cake....and Eating It Too!

By Bryan Lambert - July 18, 2010

For as long as cell phones have been around there has been the ability to tether them in some form to devices such as computers and PDAs. However, not until the advent of SmartPhones with their built-in Internet access and unlimited data plans, coupled with the ease of implementing tether software, has using the cell phone as a tether been so widely popular.

In this Tech Tip we are going to take a look at tethering in general, some tethering (and other) software available as well as some implications of using tethering.

The Basics

Tethering is, in its most basic sense, using your cell phone as a modem for your device in need of a wireless modem. Many phones today have the ability to be used as a wireless modem (most often for a notebook PC) using either a USB or BlueTooth connection. In fact, many wireless companies will include software of their own to enable the phone to be used as a tether.

Some Software Used

In addition to any software already provided, third party companies also offer tethering packages as well. Many see them as a better solution than the wireless companies tethering software. Those packages often can be purchased for a one time cost and use the data plan you may already have rather than including any extra per month charges or data limits seen with providers tethering packages.

A couple of the popular third party software packages that people may use are PDANet by June Fabrics (due to their having not only a wide variety of SmartPhone operating systems supports - but also a free version as well) and Tether (formerly TetherBerry) by 3235106 Nova Scotia Limited due to its wide BlackBerry, Wireless carrier and PC OS compatibility. These two are just examples of what may be out there in the third party tether community.

Another popular thing that can be done with some phones is turning them into WiFi HotSpots. With more and mode SmartPhones also including WiFi built in, more and more companies are building this into their tether programs (and in some cases, into the OS). Wireless companies may also offer this as part of their tether package (either built into the phone or as a separate add-on device). If this can’t be done with your phone, you may be able to do this on the PC side using a free program called Connectify.

The Downside

There are some downsides to tethering however. Doing it incorrectly can be disastrous (for example, using it incorrectly for the data plan you signed up for or or being out of network, (such as being on a cruise ship). Almost like clockwork, every year you see stories like the person in Canada who got hit with an $85,000 cell phone bill.

The first thing that you need to check into is what exactly IS allowed by your wireless provider with the plan you signed up for. Many wireless providers frown on using third party tether software to connect your phone to a laptop and it may in fact violate the terms of service. Many providers consider the “unlimited data” is JUST for data sent to the phone - not to any device that may be tethered to the phone.

Basically, wireless providers would like you to sign up for their tether plan - where they can not only charge you extra, but they can also better regulate the use of their network. Most wireless providers offer limited data for use in tethering out of fear of their networks getting swamped (some, like AT&T®, have even dropped their unlimited data plans on SmartPhones as well - with Verizon® saying that they may soon follow). Another downside is that on many networks, the speeds achieved are just not what people are used to who have broadband Internet at home or work.

To Put A Bow On It

As pointed out by others, just because a phone is capable of doing “something cool” doesn’t mean that doing that “cool something” may be worth doing. Face it, tethering your phone is cool. Being on the Internet anywhere there is a cell phone signal is cool.

So, if you do plan to jump on the tethered phone bandwagon just be sure to do your research and do it right - and be sure to have fun as you join the tethered generation!

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