/ Technology

Charging extra to tether your mobile’s internet is wrong

Laptop and mobile connected

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?

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?

Ryan says:
21 May 2011

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


aip bisung

Mikhail says:
22 May 2011

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


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.


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.


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.

Steve C says:
25 May 2011

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.

Brian A says:
25 May 2011

I am with T-Mobile and I do not get