Charging extra to tether your mobile’s internet is wrong

by , Technology Researcher Technology 19 May 2011
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Tethering, where your mobile’s internet connection is shared with your computer, often comes with an extra charge from your network. But this can’t be right, when you’ve already paid for your data allowance. Can it?

Laptop and mobile connected

One of my biggest bug bears is when a company won’t let you use the gadget you paid for in the way you want to use it – often because it doesn’t fit in with their business strategy.

Whether it’s exploiting certain functions or installing third party software, this is how I see it – if I’ve paid for something, I should be able to use it in the way I want (law permitting).

Not being able to do this is normally a problem associated with manufacturers (I’m looking at you Apple), but the mobile networks – not wanting to be out-done when it comes to antagonising their customers – occasionally get involved.

We investigate tethering charges

This time I’m talking about tethering, where you let another device, such as a laptop, access the internet through your mobile phone’s data connection.

Since the surge of smartphones, more and more people are tethering, especially as many models can now use their wi-fi connectivity to act as a hotspot. But the mobile networks just haven’t kept up.

When Which? investigated what the networks charge for tethering, we were surprised to see that, despite having data allowances in place, customers were being charged extra.

Only two networks (3 and O2) didn’t apply extra charges. The others claimed that their tethering packages provided extra data, not just the right to tether. But this still feels very unfair to me – you might not want or even need to buy this extra data.

Where’s the logic?

It’s like an energy company charging you for a set amount of gas to heat your house and then, despite you having a gas surplus, charging you extra just to use gas with your cooker.

If we’ve already paid for it, shouldn’t we be able to use it in the way that we want to?

And if that wasn’t enough, we then discovered that Orange only lets iPhone customers tether their devices. So, if I buy a new Android smartphone with a healthy data allowance, I won’t even be able to use one of its features even if I was prepared to pay extra! This whole tethering business needs to change. Agree?

36 comments

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Ryan

I am a 3 customer, I feel that people on other networks are really missing out. who wants to use the sluggish iPhone to browse the internet on the go. What difference does it make to them which device we use to use the data we already paid for.

and I would also like to add how annoying apple are for concealing their.. ( well my) device. When I had a sony erricson, battery life was never a problem, you can pick up an extra battery for £3 and always have one spare in case you run out of juice. Now when I am waiting 10mins for my iphone to boot an app due to Apple releasing firmware updates that the older phones cant handle, I will then go from 50% battery to zero with no back up plans.. just to add a bit of inconvenience to my regrettable purchase.
Thanks apple

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Mikhail

I’m with Vodafone and I’m disappointed, however, I don’t need tethering too often.

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colin c

Has Which done any tests of personal wi-fi hotspot gadgets such as Mi-Fi, and if not would you consider it? I’m not an expert on these things but wonder if they’re a viable solution.

Hi Colin,

We did do a quick first look review of the first 3 Mi-Fi device back in late 2009. It performed well and was easy to set up, although at the time the original speed was fairly slow and it suffered from a pretty poor battery life.

They are a type of device we are interested in having a closer look at, so hopefully we might have some more on them in the future.

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wavechange

Tim – It would be good to have a Conversation about Mi-Fi and related products. The drawbacks you mention still exist but these devices offer a lot of advantages over a conventional dongle.

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clint kirk

I absolutely agree that the practice of charging extra for tethering needs to change. I suspect the networks started advertising “unlimited” or “up to 500 MB/month” without having sufficient resources to support this much bandwidth, in the hope that the average mobile phone user would not approach anywhere near their allowance. Now that more and more users have started tethering, this increases the typical amount each user downloads, and the networks are having trouble managing this much downloading and want to discourage it by imposing extra charges. It would have been much better if they were honest about exactly how much allowance they really could afford to give to users in the first place, instead of inflated promises they couldn’t keep.

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Steve C

I Totally agree with you but there is clearly self interest here, after all, why buy a 3G iPad or Netbook if you can simply tether a cheaper WiFi model. I had been using MiFi which is excellent but having recently made the decision to move my iPhone to Three, I can now share my connection via WiFi, brilliant. The other really frustrating thing is the cost of data abroad. Smart phones are perhaps at their most useful when travelling but nobody can actually afford to switch their data on turning theses brilliant devices back into basic mobile phones. I Just hope that the proliferation of WiFi starts to give the greedy networks a bloody nose.

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Brian A

I am with T-Mobile and I do not get charged extra for tethering.I am interested to know how the network knows you are tethering and not just “surfing” on the phone.
For instance this is being sent via a tethered PC

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Fred

This is a straight rip off. I’ve paid for the data so what business is it of Vodafone’s how I use my download allowance? The alternative, buying a dongle, is also very unpalatable- why have a second account when this is probably something that most of us will use only occasionally? This, combined with the outrageous roaming charges on data make these technologies very much less useful than they should be and ultimately damages the providers as much as the user.

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Frank Holden

I recently started my own business. At the moment I look for free WiFi hotspots, compared to say Germany (I was there a few weeks ago) we have loads, Motorway service stations, McDonalds, any many independent cafe’s. I also have a iPhone, with the Air Sharing App I’m able to attached email files from iPhone to laptop and visa versa, So I can send and receive files and work on them, though, as you doubt can see, this takes a bit of messing about. So I have an interest with Internet tethering. I’m on O2. When I try to turn my iPhone 3G on to Internet Tethering I’m directed to a O2 web site that does not exist (I have the latest software on my Iphone). When I look at possible bolt ons in my O2 account, Internet Tethering is not available! O2 always come out tops (or close to) in Which surveys, wow what must the other providers be like. Interesting with 3′s option. This Internet Tethering is another example of how mobile providers on the surface are in the technological age and yet are so, so far behind with technical service. Another example, close to most of our hearts, using your phone abroad. My recent Germany trip, I asked O2 if they had a sister company in Germany, I was told NO. When I got to Germany my iPhone connected to O2 Germany! Internet Tethering, Data Roaming etc, etc, As technology rapidly moves forward, mobile providers are not keeping up. It needs one company with the vision to give a service for today rather than yesteryear and more bent on making cash, will win the day.

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Rory McEwan

do you have to pay for electricity and then have to pay extra to use it to light your house?

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Moe

I inquired today with T Mobile customer services about tethering. I would like to do this very infrequently whilst away from my regular wifi connection. 

I was told this is possible with the addition of a booster but would incur a monthly fee of £5.10.

I was ok with this until I inquired further and found out that this monthly fee did not include any extra data allowance and was simply a charge for the option to tether. 

This is exorbitant and excessive and furthermore unjustified. 

With every other booster the offer, the fee is justified with the addition of extra allowances and I find this fair and acceptable. 

However with the tethering booster there isn’t any extra data allowance given. 

I would like to know how T mobile can justify charging a customer a reoccurring fee for tethering their existing data allowance. 

As I understand it, there is no cost to Tmobile when I tether my connection to a laptop. Whether I use the my data allowance on my phone or my laptop should be up to me because so long as I adhere to the fair usage policy, T mobile should not financially be disadvantaged in any way nor have their bandwidth strained anymore than normal. 

What I would judge to be fair is for T mobile to charge a one of connection fee to set up tethering and scrap the monthly fee, or if they insist on charging a monthly fee, to provide an added data allowance of say an extra 1gb per month. 

Otherwise this booster is simply a form of  extortion. I am being forced to pay an additional fee to use an allowance of data that forms a price plan that I already pay a monthly fee for. I shouldn’t have to pay twice to use the same allowance. This is wrong. 

This would be comparable to my home broadband provider charging me an additional monthly fee if I wanted to share my broadband connection with a device other than my main P.C. 

It’s simply unacceptable and unjustified. 

Does anybody think there is ground here for a complaint to Ofcom? 

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Pet

Hi TIm,
I’m confused. If I understand your explanation correctly tethering and Portable Wifi Hotspot (PWH) are the same thing. Only I’m a T-Mobile customer with an HTC handset (2.2 Froyo). I regularly use my wireless connection to access the Internet using my Macbook while traveling and thus far have not incurred any additional charges. My data plan is unlimited at least it was prior to being reduced, as with other providers, to 500mb fair use policy).

I’m quite fastidious with checking my bill and whenever my monthly amount goes beyond my monthly £20 amount I am straight on the phone to customer services. I’m currently 14 months into a 24 month contract and without exception have never paid my more than the contract amount.

Essentially the PWH is part of the Froyo update and I just used that. The caveat to this is that I only ever surf, send and receive emails or Instant message. I also pause Dropbox, Sugar sync and other syncing programs when using my PWH. I also buffer films while on my home network, rather than streaming films over my PWH. I also don’t use skype to place calls, preferring instead to use my HTC for that. I also don’t use spotify or other music streaming services while my personal hotspot is active. WIth this in mind I don’t understand how / why other people are charged, especially other HTC, T Mobile users.

@ Moe, my contact has two Flexible boasters. I think one is the unlimited Internet, as standard. The other is the unlimited landline calls. My advice would be to call the customer services and have a chat. I have to say neither T Mobile nor my Wildfire is without it’s problems, however in my experience the customers services have been excellent in rectifying problems or providing compensation for unmet customer satisfaction. If you’ve been a customer for a long time (it’s worth considering I was a customer for less than 2 months when I had my first problem) I’d advise you to express your disappointment at this cost and usability. It’s worth also exploring what other options exist with T mobile. Also if you have an Android phone check to see if there functionality is built in the phone architecture.

Hope that helps

A happy cost free tether.

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Dan Jones

i ve got a t mobile rapport in the uk and teathering is free for me untill i reach about 500mb then its goes to charging me.

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Peter

I wonder if the mobile companies would win a court case on the whole tethering issue… After all, as the article states, you are not circumventing your data allowance, simply using it in the way you want. Ofcom might have something to say about this… Someone should ask them.

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rarrar

Its not the same as buying and using electricity where you pay for each “unit” used.
The up to ###MByte or unlimited plans sold by the network companies are priced on the basis that many customers will not use the maximum allowed.
They probably consider that tethered use results in higher usage and probably higher continuous use ( bandwidth) which costs them.

I would have thought that market forces could be relied on to produce competitively priced plans for all types of use in this field – unless collusion between the network providers is being suggested ?

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Richard

Just bought an Ipad2 with wi-fi, thinking I could tether with my iPhone when there is no wifi network available. But now discover Orange want to charge me £5pm for tethering up to 500mbs. Will be registering formal complaint as I just want to use same data allowance I’m already paying for but via iPad not iPhone. Outrageous !

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TK

Im on Orange with a Panther £40 contract. It includes unlimited data with 1GB fair usage. I also have a 3 pay as you go where I get chunks of data when I top up. I can tether on both without any problems – on Orange I had to change my setting on my HTC Desire to make it work. Always stayed within my data allowances and have never been billed for tethering within this although I believe both networks T&Cs say tethering is excluded.

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abm

just bought an ipad3 thinking I could tether it to my iphone on an orange contract (how presumptuous of me). shop assistant told me to call orange who would “unlock” my phone to allow tethering – to use the data I have already paid for. orange tell me that I have to pay extra for this “privilege” which again, I thought I had already paid for!!
unless I am missing an obvious technical point, this seems like a scam to me. although I don’t seem to be able to do anything about this until my contract is up – I WILL EXERCISE MY CHOICE/S WHEN I CAN.
I guess witholding info only works up to a point before people lose faith in the brand/product. short-term thinking on the part of tele-communication companies at play here – I think……

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Richard

I was told exactly the same by Orange last year; as it happens I was also paying for an Orange dongle to use with my laptop £15per month; so I cancelled this and am now paying the same for a 3 Mi-Fi dongle which I can use with my laptop and Ipad. It works really well. Orange were/are just being greedy, have lost a dongle customer and I will probably switch my Iphone contract away from Orange when I can. Nice work Orange.

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Guy

I’m with 3 on my iPhone 4 with All You Can Eat Data. I have had the phone for about 18 months and had only just realised that I could use Personal Hotspot with it. DUH! However I have recently moved into my flat and while I was waiting for Sky to be installed, I was using my iPhone as a wi-fi for my laptop and PS3. It is unbelievable, no issues with the 2 of them online at the same time. I’m gaming online while my wife is online on the laptop. Funny enough, although Sky has in the last couple of days installed my broadband I find my connection is better using my iPhone as a wireless router. I have still to wait for Sky to run for about week before I can get a true broadspeed, however I’m tempted to cancel my Sky broadband and just continue to use my phone instead.

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Darren

I have just found out that I do not get charged for tethering with 3 and have unlimited internet, however when I bought my contract at 3 (face to face not via internet) I also bought a 3 dongle on contract, the sales rep did not mention anything about me being able to tether otherwise I would not of taken out the mobile dongle contract. And to top it off I went over my allowance on my dongle last month and was charged an extra £10 which again wouldn’t of happened if I was tethered grrrrrr….

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craig

tethering?is it from a roaming rate abroad also.say:example. i use a iphone and 3mi-fi on standard roaming rates £1.28/min in spain to connect a tv channel. if so would it apply on the account of 15gb size .plus a charge(standard roaming rates)of that size i would use because i could expect from a high bill?”a long use of time” or a lower bill because the rates are not included in my data usage.?

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michele

Hello, I had a similar problem. I recently upgraded to a samsung galaxy s2 with orange and keep my ulimited data allowance. When i first tried to tather i wouldn’t work. I call orange enquire and i get told the same story, £5 pound for the bundle. I explain that it make no sense comparing it to me having to pay to use my bicycle and ask to be call back by a manager. The manager called me back apologised and finally sent me the configuration message to tather my phone. He didn’t charge me a penny more and i’m now a happy customer, no really but at least i got what i wanted. Is not the first time and i find that if you stand you ground calmly then you often get what should be already yours. For example as i said i recently upgraded to a samsung galaxy s2 what i didn’t say is that the upgrade was free, i pay £10 a month for 400min unlimited text and ulimited data allowance. hope it helps!

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Deano131

Just got a bill from orange for over £1800 for one month of occasional tethering via iPhone of iPad. No calls from orange- nothing. No warning thr this would incur exorbitant charges. This is a straight forward procedure via iPhone for which I pay for 500mb data pm. I will naturally be calling orange who I have been with for over 10 yrs and spend over £50 pm with. Anyone got any ideas what else I can do about this??!
Thanks

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Roger

Yes, RUN!

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Peter

I recently got into an e-mail chat with a T-mobile rep. I repeatedly asked if there are tethering costs and where I could find details. Eventually after a lot of reluctance he said that tethering had been withdrawn in the last couple of weeks as a T-mobile service. Can anyone verify this?

I’m taking tethering to mean using Wifi on your phone as an internet connection for another device. How do the networks know you are doing it?

In addition could you get round this my moving your phone Sim to say a 3G Tablet?

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radable

It’s a very simple logic.

1) companies try to sell it as an extra feature, which is exploitative greediness.

2) Tethering trends to consume more data, in general. That’s why some companies may limit it, especially on certain plans.

gg has had unlimited internet on all its monthly ‘goodybags’, but did not allow tethering because that was using lot of bandwidth (= costing unhealthy amounts of money).
So now they’ll introduce 1gb goodybag WITH tethering.
Those i on unlimited plans won’t be allowed to tether.
Yes, there were similar discussions as above before the decision was taken, but for short term that’s probably the best compromise.

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lee

I have an HTC phone using TMobile which I use occasionally as a Wi-Fi hotspot for my tablet. I can’t find anywhere in my contract saying this is not allowed. In any case, how would TMobile, or any other operator for that matter, know that a user is “tethering”? I hope that those with the technical knowledge on this matter could enlighten those like me who are not technically aware.

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Sonia

hello all,

I am a 3 customer and I can’t tether as you guys are commenting. I just tried it out with my computer and it told me I was not allowed to tether and told me to switch off the phone to reset the internet on it and be able to use it again.

Can you please indicate how do you do it in case I’m missing out something?

Many thanks in advance,
Sonia

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Johnny Nobull

Charging to tether is a scandal. If you buy 1Gb of data per month, it should not make any difference whether you decide to use the phone or a device that is tethered to it. 1Gb of data is 1GBb of data. I called Three today to justify why they charge for tethering. The person I spoke to was unable to give me any logical reason other than “we’re in business”. QED. it’s con.

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Sonia

It’s absolutely ridiculous. I called them for 3 days and spoke first to a sales guy, then to his manager, I finally put a complain and they also called me back. It’s useless, don’t waste you energy with them, they’re crap. After all my frustration, anger and shouting they just gave me a 5 pounds discount on my next bill – as if that’s going to sort out my issues in any way!!

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dbt

Ofcom needs to get up off it’s …. and do some work on this unfair practice by the greedy com. co’s.

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Richard

I personally tether all the time against the wishes of my provider. I do it because they don’t stop me, but accept it could happen at any time. I feel peoples arguments that they should be allowed to use the internet on any device they wish is wishful whiny thinking. This comparison made to a gas company charging extra for the cooker just isn’t strong enough. When a restaurant offers all you can eat deals, do you expect to be able to fill your bags with food to get closer to the maximum you could eat in one day, outside the restaurant? no you do not. You accept that the business is offering you unlimited food within their restaurant in one sitting. They have an idea how much an average customer is going to eat and set a price that encourages customers to both visit and provides them a profit margin. The phone companies are doing exactly the same here, they are offering you as much internet as you want on your mobile phones and have an idea what an average customer using internet on their mobile device will use. They set a price accordingly and for some reason the offer of a deal is “unfair”. This argument just seems weak to me. Eventually data will become so cheap tethering will be allowed, or the companies will develop more effective ways to stop it. In the mean time the setup is what it is and as a consumer when you do not like a service being offered, what do you do? you say no thanks. (or be a chancer like me and hope they don’t notice :D )

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JohnnyNobull

Richard, your restaurant analogy is not correct. My 1gb of data per month equates to me buying a meal. Tethering equates to me giving some of my meal to someone else. Does the restaurant have the cheek to bill me an extra £5 because I gave some of my meal away? No.
When it comes to an unlimited data tariff, that is a con too because the service provider could not and has no intention of giving anyone unlimited use of it’s network for a fixed price. Ofcom should not permit the term “unlimited” to be used unless it truly is unlimited. And if it was unlimited, then charging for tethering would still be a con. I have a BT wireless router but BT doesn’t change me for connecting more than one device to it because it’s none of their concern which devices consume the monthly allowance.

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ysj

3 network started to charge 5 quid/month for tethering (I don’t know when this started). Check out their lumia 1020 preorder and you’ll see ‘tethering’ add-on which cost you 5.

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