The latest versions of Android and iOS have data tethering features built right into the mobile operating systems. This lets you turn your 3G or 4G phone into a USB modem, sharing your internet connection with a laptop or other device over WiFi, USB, or Bluetooth connections. But people have been tethering phones using third party apps for ages. What’s different is that now that the feature is built into the OS, most wireless carriers charge an extra monthly fee for tethering — even though most carriers don’t actually give you any extra data for the money.
Recently a number of iPhone and Android users who have been tethering without paying for a tethering plan have reported that they’ve received warnings from AT&T letting them know that they need to switch plans. Reports have also started making the rounds suggesting that some phone carriers are blocking access to tethering apps in the Android Market — although you may still be able to download and install some of these apps from third party web sites.
Now the developer of PdaNet, a popular app that lets you tether mobile phones to computers, has released an updated Android app which may help you avoid paying extra fees. PdaNet 3.0 for Android includes a feature which the developer says will hide your tethering use from your wireless carrier. In other words, your data usage will look like regular smartphone data usage and won’t be distinguishable from data being transferred through your phone to your computer.
It’s not clear how this feature works or how long it will take for phone carriers to get around it. But my guess is that occasional tethering users who don’t consume huge amounts of data will be able to continue flying below the radar, while users who are approaching their monthly data caps each month are more likely to draw unwanted attention from their mobile carriers.
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