Networking 101: Tethering

November 25, 2011, By George Lang

Over the past few weeks DeviceMag’s new Networking 101 series has been opening up “new” ways for our readers to gain totally FREE broadband Internet access via Microsoft’s powerful Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) software. This week we will continue this trend (albeit not always free) with a slight twist called Tethering.

Tethering can be loosely described as a way to share your cellphone’s Mobile Broadband data plan with other devices; e.g., laptops, notebooks, tablets, handhelds, iPods, other cellphones, and even desktops! This is accomplished through your cellphone’s 3G, 4G, WiMax, or LTE Internet wireless wide area network (WWAN).

 

HTC Thunderbolt (WiFi Hotspot Tethering)

 

You might ask, “Why would I want to do this?” The value has been widely appreciated by IT service technicians for many years. For instance, professional door-to-door technicians from the Geek Squad or Geeks-On-Call (can’t they think of different adjective) carry laptops that can access the Internet from 3G cellular modems in case they have to download drivers for hardware devices on the computers they work on. This is because, on many occasions, the Internet access in the home or place of business they are servicing is unavailable to them.

There are a few different ways that tethering can take place, some well beyond the scope and capacity for us to explain fully here. But there are numerous recent articles, already treating the subject, some of which we will try to link you to as we briefly describe them.

From a personal computing perspective, let’s take the network we developed in week two of Networking 101 as an example.

 

 

 

Suppose the basement wireless router in the network shown above goes down. All of the computers upstairs will lose the ability to access the Internet because they all share the WiFi connection on the upstairs laptop via ICS. You figure you are plain out of luck for a while until you remember your new cellphone has a built-in feature which allows it to generate a WiFi hotspot. Enabling this feature in your phone is extremely simple and gives you the ability to simply change your laptops WiFi access to the phone instead of the basement router. Using the HTC Thuderbolt pictured above as an example…

The Thunderbolt comes with Mobile HotSpot right out of the box. This little feature basically allows you to share that oh-so-fast 4G LTE data connection with other WiFi devices around you. Simply fire up the Mobile HotSpot app and you can turn your Thunderbolt into a portable WiFi hotspot in seconds. Then, connect up to 8 WiFi-enabled devices to your Thunderbolt to give them a taste of high-speed mobile broadband.

Having Mobile HotSpot is like carrying around a WiFi router in your pocket. Better yet, because the Thunderbolt can achieve wireless data speeds on par (and probably faster) than your home broadband connection, Mobile HotSpot might just replace your need to pay your monthly cable internet bill.

[However] you’ll have to pay $20/month for 2GB of Mobile HotSpot data (Park).

Because all the computers share your laptops WiFi connection, you now have regained Internet access for all of them through your cellphone. Bear in mind, tethering in this fashion can provide no more bandwidth than your phone already has. So, despite its broadband distinction, it will be much slower than the WiFi connection you had to the basement router. Hence, this is merely a temporary solution which will provide Internet access until the basement router is repaired or replaced.

4G LTE MiFi Mobile Hotspot

Another method of tethering uses the 4G LTE MiFi network available from Verizon (Sprint has also recently announced planned LTE support but is currently using WiMax). This option, however, requires a separate cellular account.

Tethering provides smartphone owners with optional ways to connect their devices to broadband Internet, even when so-called “normal” methods are not available. Relatively recent pricing plans and alternate methods of tethering can be found here.

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