Sunday, 21 February 2016

Tethering & Portable WiFi Hotspots: How To Use Your Phone As A WiFi Source

I’ve had numerous connection problems with my broadband service provider lately, which makes the random price hikes all the more frustrating.
Image credit: ClkerFreeVectorImages

The plus side to this is that I had a valid excuse to terminate my 12 month contract with Sky, as they could see my connection status at their end and couldn’t argue that it would frequently timeout (such a first world problem, I know).

Coincidentally, I’ve been going on house/flat viewings as I’ve been thinking about moving out. Even though Sky were okay with me leaving early into my contract, waiving any cancellation fees due the technical issues I had been experiencing, moving to another broadband provider would have been pointless as I didn’t want to be tied to another 12 month contract if I’d soon be moving.

So, what to do in the interim?

I rely heavily on the internet for entertainment - it’s where I watch most of my TV series. I also like to keep up with celeb gossip (a guilty pleasure) and the general news. I need it to check-in on this website as well.

Finally, I go to a lot of local events that are advertised via social media, so my social life kind of depends on it to arrange plans .

I do have quite a generous internet package on my phone plan, but you don’t realise how much data you use until you rely on it solely. And then run out. Very rapidly.

When it did run out, I somehow managed to survive a few days without the internet, including a long weekend that dragged (although there was a sense of peace and quiet that came with being cut-off from the digital world).

However, it’s definitely not something I’d want long-term. With the lack of internet, I found myself feeling very…sedentary and sleepy, with just the TV for company. It was these weekends that my friends were all busy too.

Gosh, I sound like an addict.

These days, you can add unlimited data onto your phone package, usually for a few quid extra per month (or so I thought: unlimited data is no longer a common option, I only got it as an add-on after pushing for it with my phone company).

However, I’m not a big fan of using my smartphone for my entire internet/computing needs, finding them too fiddly for larger tasks – I prefer the ease-of-use of a laptop and only really use my phone’s internet for the apps that are running in the background, or when I’m out and about.

There’s the local library as a potential internet source, which now offers WiFi - I did spend a couple of Sunday mornings dragging my butt to the library, laptop in tow. It was all very hipster and student-ey, but the change of scenery was kind of nice.

The only option at the library prior to that was booking up to 2 hour sessions on their various computers dotted around the library, which was handy if you were truly desperate, but it’s hard to be productive when you have a clock counting down how long you have left, ready to boot you off once your time’s up.

So the WiFi at the library was definitely a welcome addition. But with limited opening hours at weekends, it’s not always ideal. Plus, I’d rather catch-up on my YouTube videos at home.

Then I remembered a little trick I learnt from my brother a few years ago, back when he was weighing up his internet options.

You see, there was very little need for internet in his household back then, but to keep up with the times he did get an internet dongle.

It barely got used, unless one of us internet-obsessed lot (his siblings) came to visit. But that all changed when smartphones got popular. Even he wasn’t immune, and since there’s little point in having a smartphone without a decent internet package, all of a sudden he found himself using the internet a lot more.

At some point, someone at the phone shop must have shown him how to set his phone up as a WiFi hotspot, to get the most out of his unlimited data package.

With tethering or setting up your phone as a portable WiFi hotspot, it basically allows you to connect various devices to your mobile phone’s internet data, essentially turning your phone into a WiFi hub.

You can connect your computer the same way you'd connect to any other WiFi network. To activate it on your smartphone, it depends on your individual phone’s operating system/settings, but generally it’s an option near your "Wireless & Networks" settings, usually labelled "Tethering & Portable Hotspot".

Of-course, mobile data isn’t as strong, secure or reliable a connection as fixed-line broadband, but it’s ok for everyday browsing and is ideal for doing low-intense things like checking emails, checking Facebook, reading the news and blogging. I’m not sure how it’ll hold up for more heavy-duty browsing like watching videos and downloading (I think network providers have a cap and a "Fair Usage Policy" you need to abide by).

But if you have an unlimited data package, you may as well use it. Especially if you’re not going to be permanently residing somewhere and can’t be tied to a home phone/internet contract.

Besides, personally I’m barely home these days anyway. Which makes me question if moving out is really worth it, after-all… one of the reasons why I discontinued my broadband in the first place.

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