Say you’re in a public space and you want to use your laptop to go online but there’s no WiFi available. Well, if you have your mobile device, you may be able to connect it to your laptop to connect to the Internet.
This is tethering, the process of using your mobile device as a modem for your laptop by connecting them through either a USB cable or a Bluetooth or WiFi connection.
And tethering isn’t just for when there isn’t a wireless hotspot nearby — it can be a safer alternative to public WiFi networks. Attackers often lurk on unsecured public Wi-Fi networks waiting to exploit the information being sent through them, so your data will be much safer if it is sent directly through your tethered mobile device.
Whether you are able to tether your mobile device to your laptop — and how much you’ll pay to do it — will depend on your mobile carrier. Most major carriers either charge one-time fees or mounting fees based on additional data used, or disallow tethering altogether. Not surprisingly, the reluctance of these major carriers to allow tethering has been in and out of federal court in recent years, but the barriers are slowly breaking down by court order.
Still, there’s a good chance you’ll have to pay a one-time fee to your carrier to allow tethering, and these fees in some cases will allow for additional data usage. In many cases, if you do not have to pay this one-time fee you risk burning through however much data is allotted through the terms of your contract and then paying for additional data.
Either way, you’ll likely want to explore the world of apps that enable tethering. For Android there are several free apps, while the iPhone offers a $30 tethering option sold outside of the app store.
In addition to the potential extra charges involved with tethering, there are other drawbacks too. For one, your mobile connection may not be as fast through your mobile device, particularly if you are connecting to it wirelessly. Second, your mobile device’s battery will draw down more quickly unless it is plugged into a power source.
Ultimately, however, tethering is a valuable tool, particularly for frequent travelers who often find themselves in want of a secure Internet connection while they’re on the go.