Ask LH: Can I Get Around Overseas Tethering Bans?

Ask LH: Can I Get Around Overseas Tethering Bans?

Dear Lifehacker, I’m going overseas soon, and am considering picking up a local SIM in my destination country. The only problem is tethering is explicitly prohibited by the plan I want to use.

Having enjoyed tethering all my mobile-connected life in Australia, I don’t understand this tethering prohibition. Can I circumvent it if I tether via USB cable or Bluetooth? Does it just block desktop browser access, or would using a desktop email client also cause problems? Any other advice? Thanks, Confused About Tether

Picture: Oliver Clarke

Dear CAT,

It’s not entirely the case that tethering has always been freely available in Australia. Back in 2009, when the iPhone was first introduced, Optus tried incorporating a tethering charge into its plans, though it backed down after consumer protests. Some cheap prepaid plans have also imposed a “tethering ban”. However, it hasn’t been as common an approach here as in the US, where many plans still impose a fee if you want to use your phone as a hotspot which other devices can tether to, or block tethering altogether.

Where a tethering block does apply, it covers any internet activity on connected devices. If you want to connect your laptop via your phone, browsing, desktop email and other apps are likely not to work. While the internet is filled with workarounds for specific plans and devices, these don’t always work — if carriers feel they’re losing money through tethering, it’s in their interest to try and cut people off. You might find the ban is easily avoided or not functional in reality, but why take the risk?

Rather than trying to work around any tethering blocks, we’d suggest seeking out an alternative plan — very few places have only a single provider these days. Look at other carriers in the same country, or see if there’s a data-specific rather than call-centric plan available. We’re great believers in using a local SIM to avoid roaming charges, but constantly messing around to make sure it works is a waste of time when you’re travelling. If tethering is important to you, pick a carrier that supports it.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • We were recently in the UK using a Three UK SIM which states that tethering isn’t supported for their “all you can eat” data add on.

    However, turning my Android phone into a hotspot and connecting via my laptop worked fine, and didn’t eat into any extra credit.

    So they might /say/ you can’t tether, but it might work anyway.

  • Can you recommend a provider in the US? Happy to go with a plan for a month and cancel. I did this 2 years ago and then just cancelled so it didn’t roll into the 2nd month.I just can’t remember who it was?? I will be using a Galaxy S5.

  • If the device itself supports it, I can’t see how the carrier can block it. They could potentially block it if they sold the device, and their own modifications to it included blocking the hotspot feature, but I can’t see how they could block it if the device supports it.

    I also don’t see why tethering could possibly make them lose money. What difference does it make to them if it’s just the phone that’s using your included data (that you already paid for) or whether other devices are using that phone’s data?

    Even if they claim that they want every one of your internet capable devices to have its own SIM card that they charge you extra for, they aren’t “losing” money if you tether.

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