If you’re coming over from contract phones you may be a little shocked by to find that most networks don’t allow SIM Only tethering at all.
Decent public WiFi – even in the UK’s largest cities like Birmingham, Glasgow and Manchester – still has a very long way to go.
If you need to get online and there’s no free WiFi nearby, what many people do is ‘tether’ – they share their phone’s 3G or 4G connection to the internet so that other devices nearby, like their laptop or tablet, can get online too.
It’s also known as setting up a ‘hotspot’, or ‘mobile hotspot’.
Why is SIM Only tethering such a big deal?
Commuters love it – especially if they’re faced with the prospect of having to pay Virgin Trains for the privilege of WiFi.
While First Class passengers get free WiFi, the normal people down in Standard Class get only 15 minutes for free, it’s then £4.95 an hour or £9.95 for 24 hours (but who’s spending 24 hours on a train?).
It’s not something the industry shouts about and is often buried in the small print – but Sim Only tethering is so popular that we put it at the heart of our search.
When you’re finding the best deal here just click the ‘Data tethering’ checkbox to find out who offers tethering and who does not.
So why no tethering?
If you’re paying for a SIM Only data allowance anyway, why should your network care what you’re using it for?
Computers tend to rack up more data usage than a smartphone, but if you tether and stay under your monthly limit (or are using an unlimited data plan), how does it make sense to be paying more to use that data on a different device?
The truth is that your data allowance is only half of the full picture – the other half is bandwidth. If your allowance is the amount of data you can use in a month, your bandwidth is the amount of data you can use in a second.
It’s all about the bandwidth
Smartphones generally don’t use a lot of bandwidth because they can’t multitask very well.
Generally, your phone is probably using the internet for one or two tasks – such as downloading an update while also watching a video. This means your 3G or 4G connection isn’t being put under much strain.
A computer, on the other hand, can use an internet connection to perform a multitude of tasks simultaneously and if you start tethering more than one device at the same time, the stress on your connection can quickly pile up.
Unlimited data – but not for tethering
Unfortunately, it doesn’t really matter what the justification for tethering charges is. If your network doesn’t allow tethering on your plan, you agreed not to do it when you signed off on the terms and conditions of your contract (even if you didn’t read them).
There are ways to tether your phone even if your network doesn’t allow it, but if you’re caught you risk paying a hefty increase on your next bill, being forcibly ‘upgraded’ to a tethering plan or even losing your contract entirely.
On top of this, many ‘unlimited’ data plans still put caps on the data you use while tethering. For example, GiffGaff’s unlimited SIM-only contract will only allow for just 6GB of tethered usage per month.
The table below shows which providers allow tethering on both monthly and pay-as-you-go contracts.
It’s important to note that while many networks offer some form of tethering, the service may be restricted to specific contracts – especially ones with low data caps, under the 2GB a month mark.
This is a rather shady practice, as it can often lead to customers chewing through their data allowance far faster than they expect and having to pay a premium on the usage past their cap.
If you plan to use tethering on a lower data allowance, be very careful not to overspend on your data as you could end up paying much more than expected.
It is recommended that you only tether for an hour or so a week, and only tether one device at a time.
At the end of your tether?
It’s also worth noting that not all handsets support data tethering.
This is especially important with a Sim Only deal as you could end up forking out extra for a decent tethering service only to later realise that your phone is lacking the feature in the first place. Tethering may be a standard function for newer phones, it’s still worth double-checking that your device is supported.
5G is on the horizon and if it really can outpace the speeds of fixed-line broadband 100 times over, as it is expected to do, data tethering is likely to become a vital service in the near future.
This means networks should start competing more aggressively with their tethering services – driving down the price and increasing functionality for the end-user.
Until then, it may take a little bit of digging to find a SIM Only deal that can meet all your tethering needs.