What is tethering?

Everyone needs a phone to get online, but did you know your mobile data can power more than just your phone use? Find out how here.

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Mobile phone tethered to computer

What does tethering mean?

Tethering means using your phone’s mobile data to create a connection with other devices. This means your phone becomes a mobile broadband hub like a dongle. You can connect laptops, games consoles and other phones to your mobile this way. 

What is the difference between a mobile hotspot and tethering?

Technically, tethering and hotspotting, terms that are now used interchangeably, are two different things:

  • Tethering: Using a physical cable to connect your phone to a laptop or other device for internet connection

  • Hotspotting: Creating a WiFi connection via your phone for connection without a cable

Nowadays, you’ll probably never see the term ‘tethering’ used with the above definition in mind, that said, there’s no harm in reading the small print of your phone contract to confirm that there are no limits on doing this.

Why do I need tethering?

Tethering is a super useful way to get your other devices online. Tablets, laptops and other phones can all connect to the internet using your one SIM card, so it can also save you money on SIM only deals if you were looking to get a data-only SIM for occasional use – you can just hotspot using your phone. 

Tethering is most useful when you’re on the go. If you want to catch up with work or just your favourite series, you can stream and download to your laptop without needing to find access to WiFi or buying a dongle. In short, tethering makes your smartphone even smarter. 

Can I use mobile tethering on any network?

Generally speaking, yes, you should be able to get online on multiple devices via your mobile data on any UK mobile network. However, you may also be limited to how many devices you can use or how much data you can consume as a hotspot.

Vodafone tethering

Vodafone has no specific limits on how much you can tether, so long as it’s within your monthly data allowance, and obviously, the more devices you connect to, the quicker you’ll use up your data. You may also need to double-check that tethering is permitted in your given plan. 

EE tethering

EE tethering allows you to use your phone as a hotspot so long as it is within your monthly data allowance, after this, you will be charged at the standard rate. You can also continue to make calls on your phone even while tethering with EE, so long as you are on a 2G or 3G connection. 

Three tethering

You can create a Three personal hotspot as both a pay monthly or pay as you go customer. Three tethering is also covered by your monthly allowance, so whatever your data limit is, you are free to use it however you like.

O2 tethering

O2 lets you create a mobile hotspot, though O2 does say on its website that its plans are not designed for tethering, and should not be frequently used for this purpose. Pay as you go customers can also tether up to five devices. You will need a 3G or 4G connection to use tethering, and all data comes out of your monthly allowance.

Sky Mobile tethering

Sky Mobile allows for mobile tethering and it is covered by your mobile allowance, so be sure not to go over. 

Virgin Mobile tethering

Virgin Mobile tethering is permitted so long as you stay within your monthly allowance.

iD Mobile tethering 

iD Mobile SIMs and phones do allow for tethering but it is not a service iD Mobile claim to support. That means you may be able to get online, and so long as you stay within your monthly limit, you won’t be charged extra, but iD won’t be able to help troubleshoot if you find yourself unable to create a hotspot.

Tesco Mobile tethering

Tesco Mobile tethering lets you use your phone as a hotspot so long as you stay within your data allowance, if you go over, you’ll be charged at standard rates.

SMARTY tethering

SMARTY offers tethering on all its plans so long as you stay within your allowance. There is no limit on how many devices you use, but if you are roaming within the EU, a fair use limit of 20GB per month will apply. 

VOXI tethering

VOXI tethering lets you connect other devices to your phone so long as you stay within your data allowance. Notably, extras like data-free social media use will also apply to any devices you have tethered. 

If I have unlimited data – does that mean unlimited tethering?

Generally, yes, you can tether all you like so long as you fall within the allowances of your pay monthly plan. You should double-check to see if there is a limit on the number of devices you can tether, though.

Tethering Android phones: a quick guide

Most phones will use an Android operating system, including Samsung Galaxy phones:

  • Go to Phone Settings

  • Go to Network & Internet

  • Select Hotspot and Tethering

  • Select Set up WiFi hotspot

  • Create a name and password for your mobile hotspot

  • You should now be able to connect on any WiFi-enabled device

iPhone tethering: a quick guide

iPhones can start using tethering by doing the following:

  • Got to Settings

  • Go to Mobile Data or Settings

  • Go to Personal Hotspot

  • Slide to Allow Others to Join

Frequently asked questions

Does tethering cost extra?

No, so long as you have a data allowance in your plan and do not exceed your limits, tethering should not cost you any extra – but always double-check before you go ahead. If you do exceed this, then you will be charged at a standard rate.

Can I tether with a cable?

Yes, phones can tether using a USB cable, which is more secure than creating a WiFi hotspot.

Will tethering drain my battery?

Yes, tethering can be very demanding on both data and battery life. Tethering with a cable is slightly gentler on batteries as you are sharing a connection rather than powering a whole new WiFi hub.

Why isn’t tethering an option on my phone?

Not all phones are able to offer hotspotting, and some networks may not allow for its phones to use tethering either. If the option to tether doesn’t appear on your phone, get in touch with your network to see if they support this function.