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Mobile tethering: The best networks & SIM deals in December 2017

By Cable.co.uk
Monday, December 11th 2017

Want to use your mobile device as a portable wi-fi hotspot? Here are the five best SIM-only deals for tethering.

While some providers let you tether for free, with tethering included in the initial contract, others require a particular bolt-on to be added to your existing plan. We have highlighted the pros and cons of each of our top five deals so you can make an informed decision.

The five best SIM-only tethering deals in December 2017

1
Three Mobile

Three

All-you-can-eat SIM-only plan

  • Minutes
    Unlimited minutes
  • Texts
    Unlimited texts
  • Data
    Unlimited data (30GB for tethering)
  • Contract length
    12 months
  • Tethering fee
    Free
  • Monthly cost
    £30 per month

Three’s All-you-can-eat data plan offers tethering as standard – you don’t need to buy an add-on or make any changes to your plan whatsoever, but you can only use up to 30GB of data for a personal hotspot.

Bear in mind however, that tethering abroad is not permitted, even if you're on one of Three’s 19 Feel At Home destinations.

See Deal   

2
BT

BT Mobile

15GB Plan

  • Minutes
    Unlimited minutes
  • Texts
    Unlimited texts
  • Data
    15GB data
  • Contract length
    12 months
  • Tethering fee
    Free
  • Monthly cost
    £18 per month (for existing BT customers)

BT Mobile has now lifted its ban on tethering. Although its maximum data allowance is 15GB, unlimited access to BT Wi-fi means you can reserve plenty of your mobile data for sharing. This is excellent value for BT broadband customers in particular who can get an extra £5 off each month. There is also a BT Reward Card currently up for grabs.

BT Mobile uses the EE network, so offers some of the best coverage in the UK and the fastest mobile internet speeds. The provider’s online coverage checker will let you know how good its signal is in your area.

See Deal

3
O2

O2

30GB Plan

  • Minutes
    Unlimited
  • Texts
    Unlimited
  • Data
    30GB data
  • Contract length
    12 months
  • Tethering fee
    Free
  • Monthly cost
    £42 per month

O2 offer a wide selection of SIM-only plans ranging from 500MB to 30GB of data. You are permitted to tether on all plans and a 30GB plan will easily allow you to stream and download when you are away from a wi-fi signal.

If you intend to tether frequently and use very large amounts of data, you may want to consider a plan with an even larger amount of data such as Three's All-You-Can-Eat plan.

See Deal

4
EE

EE

4GEE 40GB Plan

  • Minutes
    Unlimited minutes
  • Texts
    Unlimited texts
  • Data
    40GB data
  • Contract length
    12 months
  • Tethering fee
    Free
  • Monthly cost
    £44.99

All EE SIM-only plans let you tether for free. This massive 40GB plan offers the most data in the range and is sufficient for sharing internet across two or three mobile devices. Flexible 30-day plans are also available but don’t come with as much data, so be sure you’re choosing a suitable allowance before you sign up.

Some EE plans – this one included – offer double speed 4G in certain areas, meaning your mobile internet will be even faster in select cities and towns. You can check your own EE coverage online. You also get free access to the BT Sport app.

See Deal

5
Tesco Mobile

Tesco Mobile

30GB SIM-plan

  • Minutes
    5000 minutes
  • Texts
    5000 texts
  • Data
    30GB data
  • Contract length
    12 months
  • Tethering fee
    Free
  • Monthly cost
    £35 per month

Tesco doesn't restrict tethering and the highest amount of data you can get is 30GB. With this plan you'll also get 5000 minutes and 5000 texts.

The 30GB allowance is only available on a 12-month contract, so make sure you’re happy to commit to the minimum term before purchasing. The most you can get on a one-month contract is 12GB.

See Deal   

What's the best UK network for tethering?

Tethering can use up your phone’s data allowance quickly, especially if you are on a 4G network. If you intend to tether often, you’ll need a plan with a large data allowance.

Several providers offer plans that are suitable for tethering. They come on 24-month, 12-month, or 30-day contracts. Here’s a selection of what’s available.

Provider Tethering limit Monthly cost Contract length  
Asda Mobile 8GB £20 30 days Buy Now
“BT 15GB £18 12 months Buy Now
EE 40GB £44.99 12 months Buy Now
giffgaff 9GB £20 30 days Buy Now
O2 30GB £31 12 months Buy Now
Tesco Mobile 30GB £35 12 months Buy Now
Three 30GB £18 12 months Buy Now
Vodafone 40GB £41 12 months Buy Now

Things to consider

What you’ll be doing online

Watching videos online and downloading media files (music, photos, videos) can use up large amounts of data. Web browsing and emailing (without attachments) won’t use as much. However, a website will often display differently on a laptop or tablet screen than it does on a smartphone. These full-size sites have more features and so demand more data.

How many devices you’ll be connecting

Think of your internet data allowance as a bottle of water. The more people who drink from it, the quicker it will empty. If you’re sharing your data with several devices, activity can vary considerably – some may be taking bigger gulps of water than others. If this is the case, you may want to consider a higher data allowance to ensure you have enough to go round.

Whether you’ll be travelling

Coverage varies between networks, particularly where 4G is concerned. If you are planning to tether on the move – perhaps for business purposes – then it’s worth looking into each network’s signal availability. Wider coverage will help ensure a consistent connection and reduce the risk of interruptions to your internet use.

Whether there are any restrictions

Some providers restrict how much of your data you can use per month for tethering. Traffic management may also apply. This can cause your mobile internet to slow down at peak times (usually in the evening).

What is my network's tethering policy?

Most providers allow tethering in some form. If you’re looking to share your phone’s internet with other devices, you have a much wider choice than in recent years.

Tethering policies vary between providers and each network has something different to offer when it comes to price, data and coverage. Here’s what it boils down to.

Asda Mobile

PAYG tethering  
Pay monthly tethering  
SIM-only tethering  
Total data allowance (monthly) 100MB - 6GB
Tethering limit on allowance None
Monthly prices From £5
See Deals

Tether on 30-day bundles

Asda has several 30-day SIM-only 4G bundles with varying data allowances. The maximum allowance available on a single bundle is 6GB, but extra can be added in 500MB and 1GB portions. There’s no limit on how much of your allowance you can use for tethering, but 6GB may not be sufficient for extensive or demanding use.

BT Mobile

PAYG tethering  
Pay monthly tethering  
SIM-only tethering  
Total data allowance (monthly) 500MB - 15GB
Tethering limit on allowance None
Monthly prices From £5
See Deals

Share your full data allowance

BT Mobile doesn’t restrict how much of your data you can use for tethering, meaning you can share up to 15GB of mobile internet with friends or your other devices.

Wide coverage and fast speeds

BT Mobile operates on EE, which covers 98% of UK premises with 3G and 99% with 4G. Furthermore, it offers the fastest average 4G download speed in the country, clocking around 33Mbps, which is faster than a standard home broadband connection (non-fibre).

EE

PAYG tethering  
Pay monthly tethering  
SIM-only tethering  
Total data allowance (monthly) 250MB - 30GB
Tethering limit on allowance None
Monthly prices From £10.99
See Deals

Use the entirety of your data allowance

EE doesn’t cap tethering. If you want to use all your data, you can. The top data allowances come on pay monthly phone plans, with more modest quotas available on SIM-only. Some of the latest handsets come with 20GB data, allowing you to use the full amount for tethering.

Tethering is also available on pay-as-you-go (PAYG) SIMs – up to 10GB – but you’ll need to select an airtime bundle that includes data when you top up.

The UK’s widest 4G coverage

EE’s 4G network is the largest in the UK. Wider availability means better access and more connection stability for users, especially those travelling around the country. Some large cities also have access to double-speed 4G (up to 60Mbps). Customers in central London can reach download speeds of up to 90Mbps.

Giffgaff

PAYG tethering  
Pay monthly tethering  
SIM-only tethering  
Total data allowance (monthly) 100MB - Unlimited
Tethering limit on allowance 6GB
Monthly prices From £5
See Deals

Tethering on 3G and 4G

Giffgaff has both 3G and 4G coverage, with a range of specific plans – or goodybags – for each. Its 4G plans are some of the most competitively priced on the market.

Tethering available on Always on UK data plans

Tethering is permitted on the 4G £20 goodybag plan, which comes with Always on UK data (unlimited usage with traffic management), but is limited to 6GB.

O2

PAYG tethering  
Pay monthly tethering  
SIM-only tethering  
Total data allowance (monthly) 500MB - 30GB
Tethering limit on allowance None
Monthly prices From £13
See Deals

No tethering limit on your data

Tethering isn’t permitted on O2’s pay-as-you-go SIMs, but you are free to use the entirety of a pay monthly data allowance.

Extra data available if you reach your limit

Once you use up your monthly data allowance, your internet use is automatically blocked. This helps to avoid additional charges. If you need extra data, there are several bolt-ons available. These add between 500MB and 12GB of data to your account. They start at £4.99 extra per month and can be managed online through My O2.

Tesco Mobile

PAYG tethering  
Pay monthly tethering  
SIM-only tethering  
Total data allowance (monthly) 100MB - 30GB
Tethering limit on allowance None
Monthly prices From £7.50
See Deals

Inclusive 4G data

Tesco does not differentiate between 3G and 4G. If your phone is compatible, you’ll get 4G speeds – where available – at no extra cost. It doesn’t matter if the devices you are tethering aren’t 4G-ready, because the data is shared over wi-fi, Bluetooth or USB.

Extra charges if you go over your limit

If you exceed your data allowance you’ll be subject to the standard tariff charges. That’s 10p per megabyte (MB) of data. Downloading one music track will use 3.5MB of data on average, so it’s worth keeping an eye on your usage to avoid running into excess charges. If you’re concerned about overuse, you can place a cap on your account.

Three

PAYG tethering  
Pay monthly tethering  
SIM-only tethering  
Total data allowance (monthly) 500MB - Unlimited
Tethering limit on allowance None (30GB on unlimited)
Monthly prices From £5
See Deals

Limits on how much of your data you can use

You can’t tether on Three’s pay-as-you-go service, but you can on its other plans. On a Three contract you can use the entirety of your available allowance or up to 30GB on an unlimited (All-you-can-eat) plan. If you reach your limit, you can add extra data for a one-off cost.

No extra charge for 4G

When you’re in an area that supports 4G, you can use it and won’t be charged extra. Those who can't get 4G will be able to use Three's 3G network.

Vodafone

PAYG tethering  
Pay monthly tethering  
SIM-only tethering  
Total data allowance (monthly) 250MB - 40GB
Tethering limit on allowance None
Monthly prices From £10.50
See Deals

Full use of your data

Vodafone does not impose any limit on how much of your data you can use for tethering. Vodafone offers up to 40GB of data per month on its Red Entertainment plan. All plans are designed for 4G.

Alerts when you’re approaching your limit

If you exceed your data allowance, you’ll be charged £6.50 for every 250MB of extra data used. Vodafone will text you when you’ve used 80% of your allowance and again when you’ve used 100%.

Once you’ve run out, you can either continue using data at the standard rate or buy a £10 Vodafone Boost. This adds an extra 2GB of data to your plan for up to 30 days.

What networks don't allow tethering at all?

Not all UK providers support tethering. Attempting it on a non-tethering network could result in additional charges or a loss of service. Details on a network’s tethering policy can often be found in their terms and conditions.

If you’re unsure on how you’re affected, ask the provider directly either online, in store, or over the phone. Here are the networks that bar tethering.

No tethering on...

  • iD
  • Talkmobile
  • The People's Operator
  • Virgin Media

What are the alternatives to tethering?

Tethering isn’t the only way to get online on the go. There are several alternatives available. These include mobile broadband, tablet SIMs, and public wi-fi.

Mobile broadband is a data-only service that has varying speeds and a choice of allowances. Data SIMs let you get online with mobile-enabled tablets and are offered by most major providers. Public wi-fi is widely available and certain home broadband providers offer it for free. Here are the alternatives in more detail.

Mobile broadband

Unlike tethering, mobile broadband is a dedicated internet service. It can achieve download speeds of up to 60Mbps and is available on contracts from 30 days to 24 months.

You can connect to it in two different ways: either with a small stick, known as a dongle, which plugs into a laptop’s USB slot, or with a pocket-sized gadget sometimes called a personal wi-fi device (MiFi). MiFi units are capable of connecting several devices to the internet, wirelessly.

Data SIMs for tablets

Data SIMs slot into your tablet to provide an internet connection. They connect to your chosen mobile network and come with a data allowance that sets how much you can do online in a month.

Data SIMs work with most tablets, including iPad Wi-Fi + Cellular models. Some tablets are wi-fi only, so won’t be compatible. For a complete list of data SIM plans, have a look at our comparison page.

Compare Data SIMs

Public wi-fi

Public wi-fi (wireless broadband open to the public) can often be found in restaurants, coffee shops and shopping centres. Some home broadband providers – BT in particular - have their own public wi-fi network. Home broadband customers often get free access to public wi-fi as part of their contract.

Compare BT broadband

Frequently asked questions

Can I tether on Virgin Mobile?

No, you cannot tether on Virgin Mobile.

Can I tether on iD Mobile?

iD mobile, from Carphone Warehouse, does not permit tethering. It runs on Three's 4G network so offers good speeds and coverage. But if you also want tethering, our list of providers above will help you to choose an alternative.

What is tethering?

Tethering connects other devices (such as computers, laptops, or tablets) to your phone's internet. This is often referred to as a personal hotspot. You need a compatible smartphone, as well as a plan that includes data and allows tethering.

There are three ways to connect your phone to another device; USB cable (a physical connection) or wi-fi or Bluetooth (wireless connections). Once connected, the signal that your phone receives from your network provider is shared between your tethered device(s).

What are the benefits of tethering?

Internet on the go

You can tether your phone anywhere that you receive a signal. That means you can connect laptops, tablets and other web-enabled devices to the internet for work or play when you’re travelling, commuting or just out and about.

Share data with multiple devices

If you often use your mobile and laptop at the same time, a tethering plan means you can share internet between the two. If you’re with a group, you can share internet with everyone. Just remember – the more people tethering, the more data you’ll use.

No need for a separate plan

Tethering won’t cost extra as long as you have data to spare on your mobile plan and you stay within your usage limit. Mobile broadband and tablet SIMs can be useful for frequent, on-the-go internet use, but they require separate plans.

What are the drawbacks of tethering?

It can use up data more quickly

How much data you use depends on what you do online with each connected device. For example, two tablets playing YouTube videos are likely to use up more data than if they were displaying web pages.

It can be slow in some cases

Mobile internet speeds vary across providers. Higher speeds will make tethered connections more responsive. Webpages will open faster and online videos will play without interruption. The way you tether will also have a bearing on the speeds you achieve. Physical connections (with a cable) will transfer data faster than wi-fi.

  EE O2 Vodafone Three
Average 4G download speed 33Mbps 18Mbps 20Mbps 17Mbps
Average 4G upload speed 17.6Mbps 9Mbps 13.1Mbps 9.4Mbps
  Go Go Go Go
Network Average 4G download speed  
EE
33Mbps
O2
18Mbps
Vodafone
20Mbps
Three
17Mbps

Source: Ofcom

Coverage can be patchy

Check a network’s coverage before you sign up to ensure that you can receive a strong enough signal. If you want 4G (the faster mobile network), bear in mind that it’s not available in as many locations as 3G (the older mobile network).

What's the best way to tether my phone?

USB is the most secure

Most phones come with a cable for charging and transferring files to a computer. This is often called a USB cable. This can be used for tethering. Cable connections are the fastest way to tether. The downside is that you’re often limited to a single connection. For devices that don’t have USB slots – like iPads – this isn’t a suitable method.

Wi-fi is the most convenient

You can tether over wi-fi. This lets several devices tether to one phone. You can keep it secured by setting a password. Most modern phones and computers support wi-fi. However, it can use your phone’s battery quickly, so keep your charger handy.

Bluetooth is the most battery efficient

Bluetooth is wireless, just like wi-fi, but won’t drain your battery as quickly. The main drawback is that it’s not as fast as a cable or wi-fi connection. While adequate for general browsing and sending emails, a wi-fi or cable connection is better for any online activity that involves watching video or playing games.

What will happen if I tether on a network that doesn’t allow it?

That depends on the network. If you’re in violation of the terms of use then your network provider has grounds to take action. This could include penalty charges, suspension of service or cancellation. Check the network’s terms and conditions for details. If you want to tether but your network doesn’t allow it, you may want to consider switching provider.

Can I tether abroad?

International tethering is generally not permitted. Using a UK phone plan abroad can be costly and even providers that allow selected international use at no extra cost – such as Three – exclude overseas tethering. Attempting to tether abroad could result in additional charges and might violate the terms of your contract. Check with your network for details.

How do I set up tethering on my existing phone or tablet?

1. Confirm that your network allows tethering

Many mobile phone providers permit tethering, but not all. The function will probably be disabled on your handset or tablet if your provider doesn’t allow it, but even if it is enabled, don’t assume that tethering is OK.

In some cases, tethering is possible even when providers prohibit it, but you could find yourself in breach of terms and conditions and liable to disconnection if you use the function.

2. Check your specific tariff

The same goes for checking the tethering conditions of your specific contract as they can vary between different tariffs even with the same provider. For example, EE and O2 let you use the entirety of your data allowance as a personal hotspot, whereas Three and giffgaff cap tethering on plans with unlimited data.

3. Make sure your phone is compatible

Most of the latest smartphones and tablets from the big brands permit tethering – including Apple, Android, Blackberry and Nokia – but it’s always worth checking, particularly if you’re buying a new handset and plan on using it for this function.

4. Switch on the tethering function

The final step is to switch on the function in the settings menu. A password will appear which you need to enter into any devices you want to connect. This helps to protect your connection from strangers searching for a hotspot and tapping into yours. Always turn off the tethering function when it’s not in use to preserve battery life.

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