/ 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.

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 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

Fred says:
25 May 2011

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.

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.

Rory McEwan says:
25 September 2011

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

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? 

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.

Dan Jones says:
2 December 2011

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.

Peter says:
27 December 2011

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.

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 ?

Richard says:
7 January 2012

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 !

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.

abm says:
3 April 2012

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……

Richard says:
3 April 2012

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.

Guy says:
7 April 2012

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.

Darren says:
14 April 2012

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….