tetheringHere’s an interesting proposition: tell your local Internet provider who sells you high-speed Internet access for $40-60 per month that you don’t need them anymore. Instead you are going to use your new 4G smart phone as a wifi hotspot in your house and access the Internet through this device. How fun is that thought?

Of course, it isn’t an original thought. Tethering is a feature that turns your smartphone into a portable WiFi hotspot. Most smartphones have this capability already built in. To activate it, go into your WiFi settings and enable your “personal hotspot” option.  The cellular carriers are fully aware of this option and have tried to discourage it by imposing ‘tethering’ fees on its customers who do this. The logic behind these fees is weak, if existent:  “I’m paying $70 a month for 10 GB of data but now you (cellular carrier) are telling me that you are going to limit how I am using my bucket of bytes?”

It’s not you — it’s them. Many of the carriers (OK, let’s name names: Verizon and AT&T) are resisting free tethering out of fear that it might cannibalize the Internet service that they also sell to customers. And for the unlimited data customers, this does make some sense. But if customers buy a bucket of bytes, why should they be limited to using them on their phone?  Fortunately, due to wireless price wars, the wireless old guard is beginning to give in to the logic of tethering…..to a point.

Some knowledgeable folk have addressed this question. This includes Google which facilitated the development of apps for its Android OS that would allow Android phone users to bypass the carriers’ tethering restrictions. Yeah Google! However, the carriers are fighting back, with major carriers trying blocking its customers access to these apps.  However, for diligent consumers, tethering is still alive and well.

One of the best web-based resources we’ve found that discusses tethering and options to it is at PCWorld. PC World reports that “if you have a usage-based 5GB or 10GB (Simple Choice) plan at T-Mobile, tethering is available at no additional cost. Tethering takes data from your existing data pool of 5GB or 10GB.”   Republic Wireless, Solavei and Ting reportedly all offer free wireless tethering capability.

Another good web resource that tells about how savvy T-Mobile customers can work around their tethering charge can be found here. So may be worth checking out these quite comprehensive and credible web sites to learn more about how to avoid the bane of wireless services.

And if you are an iPhone 5 user?   Well, you may have some decent options if you use T-Mobile.    In a recent article,  Mashable reports that an iPhone 5 user may save between $600-$1000 by using T-Mobile rather than the other major carriers if you use the iPhone 5 for your hotspot as well as your smart phone.  Of course, you can’t use more than 500MB of data.

The Google Play Store is a good resource for tethering apps.  First, there are USB tethering options.  With USB tethering, you’ll need to install device drivers on your laptop and PC, and then plug in your smartphone to a USB port, and then use your computer’s connection manager to access your mobile data by setting up your smartphone or tablet as an USB modem.  PdaNet, which is one of the most popular USB tethering apps out there, has been published under a new listing, “PdaNet 3.02.” This has escaped some carriers’ notice. EasyTether is another popular choice, but it appears to be totally blocked for most US users.  Similar to the situation with PdaNet, new arrivals on Android have been overlooked. There is a great USB tethering app from ClockworkMod called ClockworkMod Tether, and we aren’t seeing any evidence that it has been blocked. If you just look around, you should find a number of perfectly good USB tethering apps that are still available.

Wireless tethering is a little more touch and go. WiFi Tethering, also known as Mobile Hotspot, is the one of the more commonly used forms of tethering, mostly because connections to multiple WiFi-enabled devices is possible. The smartphone or tablet that is connected to a mobile data network can be setup as a WiFi router, allowing for a one-to-many connection type. Carriers seem to be more worried about these apps, likely because there is more demand for this functionality. For instance,even though Verizon has gone out of its way to block several little-known wireless tethering apps, but left one of the most popular, Barnacle, alone. The best way to sort this out is from the web client, not the phone.  iTweakiOS is available for some Apple phone devices.