Visit a cafe a couple of years ago and you would have found Dongle Dell. Seemingly every laptop had a 3G modem poking out of its USB port. Times are a-changing, though, and you are now more likely to see an iPhone providing access to the internet.
It makes a lot of sense. I never liked dongle modems. To make them work you have to load up a proprietary communications program from the network provider. Oftentimes, too, their versions for the Mac were afterthoughts and a mere shadow of the original Windows apps. What with logging on and logging off, they are a right pain in the backside.
Owners of the latest iPhones can now share their data allowance with other devices using the in-built and easy-to-use Perosnal Hotspot feature. It used to be called tethering and still is, officially, but it amounts to the same thing.
First, though, a word of caution. You need to ensure your iPhone contract has enough data to support an iPad or, even more so, a Mac. If you are on a 512Mb data plan, forget it. In some countries, too, you have to ask the network to switch on the hotspot facility. This is the case in the UK, although in some other countries they do not seem to mind. Just connect up your laptop or iPad and away you go.
In the UK I have to pay an extra £10 per month for an additional 1.5GB of data which supplements the standard 1GB available on my phone. But this means I do not need the separate contract for a dongle, so there is no real extra cost.
Once you have enough data and permission to hotspot, it’s a simple matter to get started. Just go to Settings on the iPhone, click on Personal Hotspot and switch it on. You will find a wifi password provided just under the on/off switch. This you can use on your iPad or laptop to join up, just as you would to any wifi service.
The device will remember the password, so in future all you need do is switch on Personal Hotspot and you’re away. At the top of the iPhone screen you will see a blue band informing you that the phone is acting as a router. If you wish, although I cannot think why, you are also able to pair your device using Bluetooth.
The Personal hotspot feature also allows you to share your internet (if you are feeling particularly generous) with friends. Unfortunately, if you get hacked, other cafe patrons could steal your data.
With this in mind, I seldom use the wifi function and prefer instead to establish a cable connection from the iPhone to the computer. Simply switch on Personal Hotspot and connect the sync cable to the computer. You then have a direct source of internet, much like connecting an ethernet cable.
This has a major advantage in battery life. Using the wifi hotspot you will be running down the iPhone battery faster than normal. By opting for a cable connection to the laptop, the iPhone battery is continuously charged and doesn’t suffer from the pairing process.
Sorting out the contracts
If you currently maintain a separate 3G data contract for a modem dongle, it makes absolute sense to cancel the arrangement and add more data to your phone contract. You can thus minimise your monthly data purchase and have everything in one pot.
The alternative used to be three contracts—one for the phone, perhaps with 512MB or 1GB of data, one for the iPad with 1GB and one for the dongle with 3GB. You were thus paying for 4 or 5GB while running the risk of going over the limit on one of the devices. Sharing makes so much more sense and makes for economy and added peace of mind.
In countries such as the UK, where it is not possible to set a two-SIM sharing deal for iPhone and iPad (I covered this earlier), adding data to your phone and using the personal hotspot could not be more efficient. Ideally, though, you should be able to get a second SIM, using the same pooled data, to insert in your iPad. You can do this in some countries, including Greece for instance.
Find My Mac
Why would you want a 3G SIM in your iPad when you can share data with your iPhone? There is one important reason: the presence of a SIM card ensures you have GPS facilities and can use Find My Mac/iPhone/iPad. I mentioned this in my article on security at the weekend and, in my opinion, it is worth paying the extra $100 for the 3G version of the iPad. Then you can track it as soon as you notice it missing rather than waiting for the thief to connect it to the internet.
Back to the iPhone and hotspotting. I cancelled my dongle contract six months ago and have been using the iPhone as the source of my internet ever since. It is very reliable and, if you use the cable connection, has absolutely no downside.