Wifi is great. Except when it isn’t there. And it’s usually when you need wifi the most that it’s either not available or goes down.
But if you have a smartphone and a good data plan, you can can get around any wifi problems that you might encounter. How? By tethering your phone to your laptop.
Think of tethering as turning your smartphone into a high-speed modem for your laptop or netbook. It’s easy to do, and can not only but a life saver but a sanity saver too. Tethering has enabled me to get information and deliverables to clients when the wireless I’ve been using has gone down.
Tethering involves connecting your smartphone to your laptop. That can be a physical connection using a cable (I know, how old school!) or making the connection using Bluetooth. Once attached, your phone’s data connection acts like wifi.
Your connection speed will, as you’ve probably guessed, depend on your phone’s signal strength. When you’re getting four or five bars your Internet connection will be barely distinguishable from a good wifi link. On the other hand, if you’re phone is only getting a couple of bars … like molasses is a good way to describe the experience.
What you’ll need
Obviously, you need a smartphone and a laptop. Keep in mind that not all smartphones support tethering. Ones that do include the iPhone, several models of BlackBerry, and most Android-powered phones.
Besides a phone, you’ll need a 3G data plan. Anything else and you might not be able to tether. If you can, then you’ll get speeds that rival dial up. If you’re going to tether, make sure you have a data plan that gives you a lot of bandwidth; at least 5 GB a month.
You’ll also need a USB cable to connect your smartphone to your laptop; the phone usually comes with one. This is a moot point if you’re tethering over a Bluetooth connection.
You might also need to install drivers — specialized software that allows your computer to interact with your phone — on your computer. This isn’t always necessary, but whether or not you’ll need to install drivers will depend on your phone.
Explaining how to tether specific smartphones is outside the scope of this post. You can find some good tutorials here. And here’s an overview to tethering an Android-powered phone running the latest version of the operating system.
Yes, there are a few. The biggest one is that you can really burn through your data plan’s bandwidth by tethering. Getting hit by additional charges, like a colleague of mine recently did, can really hurt your wallet.
While your phone is tethered, you can’t make or receive calls. Any calls will be shunted to your voicemail.
Finally, if you use Bluetooth to tether your phone to your laptop that will really speed up the drain on the battery for both your phone and your laptop. Using a USB cable isn’t too bad — taking this route will charge your phone.
Overall, though, the benefits of tethering a smartphone to a laptop outweigh the disadvantages. As long as you do it sparingly, tethering can be a great addition to any workshifter’s toolkit.
What are your experiences with tethering?