Tethering Data with Your Phone; How Much Is It Worth to You?

To tether or not to tether, what to do? There has been a long-standing debate and rather good argument over whether tethering your phone is legal, ethical, or financially worth it. Most platforms today have programs available that allow you to tether a wired or wireless device to you phone without buying another data plan. Most wireless carriers do offer tethering at an additional cost, but even then they limit you data speed and connection options. These days almost everyone that has a phone capable of tethering and has an additional device or two that could benefit from sharing their 3G/4G data cellular data.

So the big question is if you cheating your carrier by using your phone as a wireless hot spot or wired tethering device? Imagine if your home broadband connection required you to pay for every device you hooked up to it. Rioting in the streets would probably erupt on top of city crushing tidal waves and earthquakes. I looked around at some of the tethering plans offered by the wireless carriers to see how much tethering really costs you. My conclusion?  They all make me feel like I’m paying twice for the same data.

Here’s the breakdown I came up with.

Image courtesy of AT&T


If you’re a new customer and you purchase a phone capable of tethering, you’re gonna pay $45 a month for only 2GB of data total. That means with “legal” tethering you will get smacked with a $10 per GB overage anytime you go over 2GB. By today’s standards 2GB is really not a lot of data, especially if you watch any streaming video, audio, or tether your laptop to your iPhone, Blackberry or other Smartphone. I find the whole data plan package a complete fail for any new AT&T customer, and I know some people on this site probably would exceed their data limit every month if it were cut down to 2GB. Thankfully AT&T has grandfathered all original customers into the unlimited plan if they had it before the new plan’s inception date.AT&T has legitimate tethering plans for iPhone, Blackberry, Palm, WinMo, and Android devices. To the best of my knowledge, none of them are offered as wireless hot spots, only wired.

ATT Terms of Use:

Data Services sold for use with AT&T RIM BlackBerry devices, and SMARTPHONEs may not be used with other devices, including but not limited to, personal computers, PC Data Cards and the like, either by tethering devices together, by SIM card transfer or any other means.


Verizon has all the tethering options you want, but they too get a little tricky. Verizon still offers unlimited data for your Smartphone for $30 a month. That is pretty much the standard price across the board when it comes to “unlimited” data. I could not find out if your data gets throttled after you reach a certain amount a month, but as it goes it’s still unlimited as far as the amount of data you are allowed to use. The tethering plans are where it gets a little hairy. When you select a tethering plan from VZW you have basically two options. A wired plan consisting of 5GB of data for $15 a month. This plan has a $.05/MB overage fee if you manage to topple 5GB of usage.

The WiFi Hot spot option will cost you $20 a month and is set at only a 2GB limit and states any overage is at a per/MB rate. I assume that Hot spot overages are the same as wired overages. The fine print below each package states that tethering data is not the same as your regular phone data. Meaning even though you pay for unlimited data, if your tether is connected both or all devices can only use up to the specified amount of data. I consider that another rip off. You pay additional for the carrier to supply you with the same type of data just connected to another device. There is a very large amount of VZW phones that support tethering and you’ll have to check the site to see which models currently have it available.

Nexus One Native Tethering


I’m somewhat partial to T-Mobile only because they currently are my carrier of choice. They have some of the cheapest plans on the market and still offer what we call “unlimited” data. $30 a month gets your smartphone unlimited data, but like all good things there is one recently added minor detail. TMO now throttles your usage once you hit 5GB of data usage. Basically what that means is that you still have unlimited data, they just slow your phone down for the remainder of the billing cycle. This throttling only slows down your data and does not affect voice or normal background data usage. Only recently did TMO even announce tethering plans and the price is not too shabby compared to others we’ve seen. I could not find the official statement but it looks like $15 a month will add tethering to your $30 unlimited plan. So $45 a month will get you unlimited tethered data, but will get slowed down after 5GB of usage. So far, this is the best plan yet not showing any signs of overage fees. There is one little bonus to all T-Mobile customers who happen to have a Google Nexus One. The Android 2.2 (Froyo) update has native tethering support. T-Mobile has not changed the ROM in any way so if you have a N1 you can tether all you want (legitimately) with no extra fees. Not sure if this is true with the AT&T version but assume it to be since Google rolled out the update directly.

T-Mo Terms of Service:

Your Data Plan is intended for Web browsing, messaging, and similar activities on your Device and not on any other equipment. Unless explicitly permitted by your Data Plan, other uses, including for example, using your Device as a modem or tethering your Device to a personal computer or other hardware, are not permitted.


Sprint has some of the best plans on the market. They have three no-nonsense options that give you unlimited data, text and a choice of minutes starting at $69.99. The best part about it is that the three unlimited plans all include unlimited mobile-to-mobile minutes, no matter what carrier the other phones are on. So the minutes you pay for correspond to however many minutes you need to call land-line phones. For $69.99 you get 450 minutes, $89.99 you get 900 minutes, and $99.99 you get unlimited everything — including all local and long distance calls to whoever and whatever phone you want. Out of the big four carriers in the US, this is by far the cheapest anyone has to offer. The only tethering I could find is for the EVO 4G and EPIC 4G both running Android with a cost of $29.99.  There is a mandatory $10 service charge to these phones that come with “4G” coverage, so the price is a little higher, but I could not find a limit on the amount of data you could use. So from what I can tell,  for $110, you can have a nearly everything plan with tethering and without limits. The only downfall you have with the $69 plan is that you get 450 *peak land line minutes, and who calls landlines anymore anyway? I’m not sure about tethering for Blackberry, but at least Sprint has some kind of offering.

So there’s the quick breakdown of tethering each mobile provider currently offers. All have a legit way to tether, some will just end up costing you a lot more than they should. Of course there are options … a ton of them really. It just depends on where you draw your moral lines, and what you need to do to your phone to get there.

I first want to say that Gear Diary does not promote or agree with doing anything to violate your carrier’s terms. Everyone has a reason they might want to tether, it just depends on whether or not you are willing to pay extra for it or not. Some carries explicitly state that if you are caught tethering without a plan, that you will pay for the data fees and may terminate your contract. Some will send the data cops out to kick down your door, paint your dog, and tie up your family.

Here is a quick summary of the options on the four major platforms. I know there are others, but I just wanted to give you a quick idea of what you’re looking at.

WinMo 6.5 Mobile AP


  • Root your phone (usually one click these days), install whatever tethering app you want
  • Use PdaNet for free or paid
  • Root and install a Custom Rom
  • Pay your provider for the tethering option


  • Jailbreak your iPhone and use one of many apps (try MyWi)
  • Use PdaNet for free or paid
  • Pay your provider for the tethering option

Winmo (6.5)

  • Install a Custom ROM that has it built in
  • Use PdaNet for free or paid
  • Pay your provider for the tethering option


  • Use PdaNet for free or paid
  • Pay your provider for the tethering option

All information and rates found on carrier sites is subject to change at any time, so be sure to understand what you’re paying for and what it’s gonna cost you to tether. Whether you tether based on carrier’s terms or not, it’s gonna cost you one way or another. Some carriers just make their devices and plans more tethering-friendly than others. If you have a Nexus One then feel free to tether all you want, after all that’s as legit as it gets.

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6 replies

  1. You know… even in Canada, quite a few providers offer tethering, and they’re usually AT&T-esque in their policies. No wonder Europe looks upon America like the slightly retarded stepchild when it comes to cell phone plans.

    It really makes you think, doesn’t it? Especially as Android 2.2 offers WiFi hotspot functionality with some phones as a basic option, or as something available in the Android Market.

  2. For the record: both Verizon and Sprint have a 5GB cap on their smartphone 3G data service. For the time being at least users of Sprint’s WiMAX service (I refuse to call it 4G) have unlimited usage; that is part of the reason for the additional $10 monthly fee. The fee for tethering privileges on Sprint is comparable to that of the other companies.

    • thanks for the info. Verizon made it clear but I couldn’t find anything on Sprint. I had an Evo and an Epic in the household and am far from impressed with their “4G”. My Vibrant seems to be more stable and has way faster upload speeds and similar or better download speeds (depending on location). I have no issues tethering with it.

  3. Tethering Data with Your Phone; How Much Is It Worth to You? | Gear Diary http://goo.gl/fb/rTgsF

  4. Tethering Data with Your Phone; How Much Is It Worth to You? http://goo.gl/fb/XI0IQ #iphone

  5. Neat summary of US carrier tethering options by @techvudu on @geardiarysite: http://bit.ly/hNdgPM (I use built-in Android tethering on 2.2.)