How to by­pass in­ter­net tether­ing blocks

Your op­er­a­tor knows you're tether­ing – but how? And what can you do when it puts an end to your fun?

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If you have a tablet with­out a SIM slot, the only way to get an in­ter­net con­nec­tion is via Wi-Fi. That's fine when you're at home or near an­other Wi-Fi hotspot, but when you're on the move the only op­tion is to connect to a hotspot gen­er­ated by your smart­phone. This is called tether­ing, and you might also use it to get a lap­top on­line. Here we ex­plain how mo­bile op­er­a­tors know you're do­ing it and how to avoid tether­ing blocks.

Not all smartphones let you cre­ate a 'per­sonal hotspot' and share your 3G or 4G con­nec­tion, but many do. How­ever, not all 3G and 4G tar­iffs al­low

tether­ing, so you could end up with a warn­ing or even be­ing cut off if you break the rules.

It doesn't any more, but Three used to limit tether­ing only to cer­tain mo­bile tar­iffs. If you weren't on one of th­ese and you teth­ered any­way, you'd likely get a mes­sage telling you to cease and de­sist, or face your con­nec­tion be­ing suspended.

So how does Three - and other op­er­a­tors know that you're shar­ing your mo­bile data con­nec­tion?

We put the ques­tion to Three, which de­clined to an­swer. How­ever, if you think about it log­i­cally, it should be sim­ple to de­tect tether­ing. Ev­ery de­vice with a net­work con­nec­tion has a unique hard­ware iden­ti­fier called a MAC ad­dress. As­sum­ing that the op­er­a­tor can trace the fi­nal des­ti­na­tion of the data packets, it should be able to de­ter­mine that the fi­nal MAC doesn't match your phone's.

There are lots of other ways, too, from web browser iden­ti­fiers, soft­ware, firmware re­vi­sions and

more. For ex­am­ple, if you were tether­ing a full-blown Win­dows tablet which re­quested a soft­ware up­date, this would raise a red flag, since it's not a mo­bile op­er­at­ing sys­tem.

Sim­i­larly, the type of data could be used. If you start us­ing bit tor­rent to down­load files, you're prob­a­bly tether­ing.

How to by­pass tether­ing blocks

If you were hop­ing for a step-by-step guide to get­ting around a tether­ing ban, you're about to be dis­ap­pointed. Most op­er­a­tors al­low tether­ing th­ese days. Both Three and Gif­f­gaff - com­pa­nies which used to re­strict or ban it - now al­low tether­ing up to your monthly data al­lowance.

This is what we've al­ways thought was the fairest way to deal with it: you've paid for the data, so you should be able to use it for what­ever you like on any de­vice.

So, if you're on a tar­iff that doesn't al­low tether­ing then the sim­plest op­tion is to switch to one that does. There are some ex­cel­lent pay monthly deals around, so you'll prob­a­bly save money to boot.

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