The iPhone 4 Personal Hotspot is one of the best new features rolled out in last week’s iOS 4.3 update. If you’re running an iPhone 4, you can simply turn it on, and share that 3G connection with other devices in your immediate vicinity, by way of the smartphone’s built in Wi-Fi. It’s seriously useful if you want to hop online with your laptop on the go, or let someone with an iPad jump online with you.
Swell, right? Unfortunately, the extra charges for tethering in this way are not, and more confusingly, not every network charges for it – or even offers Personal Hotspot at all. Read on, and we’ll breakdown where you get the best deal, where you definitely do not, and your other smartphone options for sharing the data you’ve already paid for, for free.
We’ve checked in with the five major UK networks for their policies, and plucked out everything you need to be aware of. The main point to look out for is that many charge for the option to tether, whether through USB, Bluetooth or Personal Hotspot, despite the fact that you wouldn’t pay extra to use the same data on your phone.
Vodafone’s current iPhone tethering policy has not been update to reflect the iOS 4.3 update, but we’ve confirmed that its position remains the same for Personal Hotspot.
“The new wireless hotspot functionality for iPhone can be accessed by Vodafone customers. It uses the iPhone tethering APN and its use is subject to additional data charges. Occasional users pay £5 per 500MB for 30 days. Regular users can add an Access tethering bundle to their price plan at £10 a month for 1.5GB or £15 a month 3GB. iPhone customers who are already using our tethering price plans can use the new functionality at no extra charge,” a spokesperson told us.
In other words, any and every iPhone 4 user on Vodafone can turn on Personal Hotspot, but be prepared to part with a fiver.
O2’s iPhone tethering policy has not been updated since October, but we’ve confirmed that the Personal Hotspot feature in iOS 4.3 doesn’t change O2’s current additional charge for the service: you need to get the internet tethering bolt on £7.50 per month for 500MB, which is only available for pay monthly, and not pay as you go customers.
In light of rival networks’ offerings, that’s not particularly good value, but we have however learned that O2 plans to launch a new line of tariffs for iPhone which will allow you to tether for free, with data used up coming out of your regular monthly data allowance.
An O2 rep wouldn’t reveal the pricing or when these will launch, but it could be something to look forward to if you’re hoping to get an iPhone 5 on the network come June.
T-Mobile allows both pay monthly and pay as you go iPhone 4 customers to use the iPhone 4 Personal Hotspot, for a more reasonable £5.10 extra for 1GB of tethered data if you already have a contract with data (Which should indeed “account for the vast majority of iPhone users” as a rep told us).
Uniquely, T-Mobile also provides daily and weekly options to use tethering too, with 250MB for £2 per day of use, and £7 per week for 500MB, which will either come out of your credit or be added on to your bill, depending on how you pay.
Bad news for iPhone 4 owners on Orange who’ve just grabbed the iOS 4.3 update. Orange does not offer any form of tethering, Personal Hotspot or not, on the iPhone, to anyone outside of a business plan.
Its business rates aren’t too bad, with 500MB costing £4.25, and unlimited for £15 per month, but this will be a killer blow for anyone who bought their iPhone 4 on Orange to play Angry Birds, not check their work email: you can’t access one of the best features of the new iOS 4.3 update, period. Tethering for the iPhone is also not available on Orange Pay As You Go. Bah.
Upstart UK network Three is by far the most benevolent when it comes to tethering: it treats data piped through your phone to your laptop as it does any mobile data, so it simply comes out of your data allowance at no extra charge. And if you’re on the One Plan, there’s not even a data allowance, so if you live in an area of good Three reception, it’s definitely the best option – we’ve confirmed with the network that the iOS 4.3 update and advent of the Personal Hotspot feature on the iPhone 4 doesn’t change any of this.
Don’t want to switch to Three, or pay through the nose to drip your data through to a laptop? There are a couple of options.
If you’re rocking a jailbroken iPhone, a piece of software called MyWi does exactly the same thing as Personal Hotspot, and can be yours from the Cydia store for a one off charge of $19.99 (£12.49). That’s pricy, but the good news is it’ll run on any jailbroken iOS device with a 3G connection: that includes the aging iPhone 3G, as well as the iPad.
Switch to Android
JoikuSpot offers exactly the same Wi-Fi sharing skills as Personal Hotspot on Symbian S60 phones, but for the most headache free experience out of the box, all Android 2.2 and up smartphones come with mobile Wi-Fi hotspot creation as standard, as well as the ability to tether via USB to Windows 7 laptops.
Google has actually allowed for operators to charge for this feature, but in the UK, we’ve not seen any networks opt to do this of yet. Let’s hope it stays that way.
Is that enough reason to make you switch? Do you use your iPhone 4’s Personal Hotspot facility? Sound off in the comments with your thoughts!
Jennifer Allan contributed to this report