Whether you are writing your magnum opus in a coffee shop, or getting a bit of work done on the train, mobile tethering is a handy way to get online in the big wide world.
Tethering used to mean hooking up your phone to a laptop with a USB cable, in order to access the internet through your phone. A lot of handsets can still do this, but it's commonplace these days to find a Personal Hotspot setting on your handset. When activated, Personal Hotspot creates a small wifi hotspot that you can join from your laptop or tablet.
In the past, providers often charged extra for tethering, but now you can usually use some, or all of your data allowance as a Personal Hotspot at no extra cost.
Using your phone as a Personal Hotspot can burn through your megabytes however, so we have focussed on contracts which include a lot of data. Here's our round-up of five SIM-only plans that allow liberal use of your Personal Hotspot.
This plan from Three has a lot to offer the Personal Hotspot user, and at just £20 a month offers excellent value. There is a massive 100GB of data included, of which 30GB can be used for tethering. Three Mobile allows customers to set a limit on the size of their bill, with text alerts when your allowance is running out.
Another great feature of Three's Advanced Plan is that it can be used in 71 locations around the world, including the European Union/EEA countries, Australia, and the United States. A boon for intrepid travellers and business people, tethering abroad is only available to Three customers on the Advanced SIM plans, so if you are already on a Three Essential plan, it's important to note that tethering is not allowed abroad and could leave you out of pocket. A full list of countries where you can use your Three Advanced plan can be found here.
EE's plan has plenty of data, all of which can be used for tethering in the UK. When roaming in the European Union/EEA the tethering allowance is reduced to 15GB. Roaming in other parts of the world will cost extra – on top of your plan.
For those seeking a more flexible contract, EE offers 20GB for for £28 per month on a 30-day contract. Whether you choose a 12-month or 30-day contract, EE will text you when your allowance is running out, at which point you can purchase extra bolt-on data packs. The plan also comes with six months of free Apple Music, and music streamed through Apple's service doesn't use your data allowance.
Vodafone allows the full 50GB data allowance to be used for a Personal Hotspot, plus the entire data allowance can be used when roaming in the European Union/EEA. 50GB is a hefty amount of data, and a bargain at just £31 per month until 4 February. It should keep your Personal Hotspot ticking along nicely. All Red Entertainment packages come with a choice of a free subscription to Amazon Prime Video, Spotify, NOW TV or Sky Sports Mobile TV.
If you'd prefer a one-month deal, the most Vodafone offers is 40GB - but again this can all be used for tethering both in the UK and abroad.
Rather oddly, the O2 website advises against using your Personal Hotspot, as it can use up data very quickly. Having said this, O2 does allow tethering, and you can use all your data for tethering if you want. O2 also has a network of wi-fi hotspots in cafes and venues around the country, where O2 customers can use free wi-fi, saving their data allowance for later.
50GB is a huge data allowance for the enthusiastic tethering fiend, and the full allowance can be used while roaming in the European Union/EEA. People who love going to live events can also take advantage of O2 Priority tickets and offers.
This great-value SIM deal from Tesco Mobile comes with a massive amount of data for its £35 asking price. In addition to the data allowance, it boasts 5000 minutes and texts, which you are unlikely to use up in a month. Tesco Mobile allows tethering of its full data allowance in the UK, but data use abroad is capped at 12GB. Customers can use their plan in the European Union/EEA for data-roaming and tethering. If you're after a one-month plan, it will only cost you an extra fiver for your 50GB.
Tesco Mobile offers the ability to cap your monthly bill, which can help prevent overspending if you exceed your data allowance. This is particularly useful when you are travelling abroad, where out-of-plan charges can be high.
Using the Personal Hotspot feature on your phone will drain your battery faster than normal. Handsets use a lot of their battery life sending and receiving signals, so using your handset to broadcast a wi-fi signal will put extra strain on the battery. Plus your 4G connection will be getting an extra workout too, adding to the demands on your battery.
One way around this is to tether your phone to your laptop with a USB cable. This way your phone is charging while in use and the wi-fi sign will not be used. It may be necessary to select USB tethering in your phone's settings in order to do this.
For iPhone: Open Settings, then select Mobile Data. next, tap Personal Hotspot, and set Personal Hotspot to the On position. The iOS will now ask if you want to turn on Wi-fi and Bluetooth. You will need to allow this, unless you wish to connect by USB cable.
Now tap Wi-Fi Password and enter a strong password. (This isn't related to your Apple ID or usual Wi-Fi connection.) Check the name of the hotspot, which is listed under To Connect Using Wi-Fi, for example, 'Sam's iPhone'. On your laptop click the Wi-Fi icon, then click on the name of your iPhone's Hotspot (in our case 'Sam's iPhone'). Enter the password you set in step 3 and you should be good to go.
For Android:There is some variety in the settings on Android phones, but here is the basic process. Open settings and switch off Wi-Fi. In Wireless & Networks, tap More, then choose Tethering & Portable Hotspot. Tick the box next to Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot or Mobile Hotspot. Tap the Set Up Wi-Fi Hotspot item and give the hotspot a name, and set a strong password.
One thing to keep an eye on is out-of-plan charges. If you use all your data allowance, some providers may allow you to continue using data out-of-plan, which can become expensive. If your contract allows, you can cap your bill to avoid large unexpected charges. These charges can be particularly high when using out-of-plan data abroad.
It is also important to be security conscious, by setting a strong password for your Personal Wi-Fi Hotspot using numbers, symbols and both upper and lowercase letters. Bear in mind you will probably be using your Hotspot in public places with lot of other devices nearby.