Internet by Tethered Cell Phone

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December 11, 2008

I’ve written about this before, but I’ve learned more since then, so I’m revisiting the topic. This is a good option for Internet access on the road, especially for part time travelers because it does not require a separate contract. It’s a feature of your cellphone contract and it can be turned on and off at will. My phone is a LG eNV and my service is from Verizon. I believe other providers offer something similar, but I can only speak about Verizon.

What do you need?

  1. A qualifying cell phone
  2. A qualifying service plan for your phone
  3. The ‘Mobile Office Kit’ (USB cable specifically for your phone and software)
    available for Windows and Macintosh
  4. See Verizon’s Broadband Access Connect page for more details.  Also the BBAC FAQ page.

How does it work?

It’s a cellular technology, so you need to be within range of a cell tower that your phone can connect to. The ‘range’ is getting better and better though. Sometimes the data signal can connect even when you can’t make a voice call. Dead zones are getting fewer and farther between. You simply plug the cell phone into the computer via the USB cable, then run the VZAccess software. Click Connect, and you’re off and running.

I have found the speed to be very good. It’s not the fastest, and it depends on the vintage of the nearest tower, but I have been pleasantly surprised. If a call comes in on my phone, I can ignore it and stay connected to the Internet. If I pick it up, I lose the Internet connection. It also works just fine while we’re driving down the road. And, I can leave it online all day if I want – minutes are not being counted when using a broadband connection on your cellphone tethered. It’s the amount of data that is transferred that counts, not the minutes.

How much does it cost?

The Verizon plan that goes along with my phone is $60/month (smart phones and blackberries have cheaper plans.) That gives me 5Gigabytes of data transfer which is plenty for ‘normal’ use. Don’t go downloading movies though, or you’ll exceed your limit. At 25 cents per Megabyte for the overage, that would hurt!

The beauty is that you can turn this ‘feature’ off any time you want. So, if I turn it on just for a weekend jaunt, Verizon will prorate my bill, charging approximately $2/day. Be careful with your timing though. I turned it on once toward the end of the month, and didn’t turn it off till after the beginning of the next month. My bill reflected a full $60 for the month that just started. They did issue a credit the following month for the unused portion – not bad.

Data usage is also prorated. If you use it for just a day or two thinking you have 5GB of data transfer available, you could be in trouble. Let’s do the math. 1 day of usage is roughly 1/30th of a month. Divide the $60/mo by 30 and we get $2. 5Gb (roughly 5,000 Megabytes) divided by 30 = 167MB. If you use 1,000 MB, you are 833MB over your prorated allotment! 833MB * .25 and you’ve just incurred a $208 bill for that one day! Now, I haven’t actually seen anyone receive a bill like that, but Verizon’s customer service tells me that is the way it works.

If you have two people who want to use the Internet this way, you can even plug in a router and create your own mini-wifi hotspot.  Then, you need to be doubly aware of your bandwidth limitations!

Chris Guld
www.GeeksOnTour.com
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17 comments

  1. Royce Wyrick

    Not a good idea. When you finally get your first $208.00 bill, then you will understand and may agree.

  2. Royce,
    The idea is that forewarned is forearmed. The overage is easy to avoid. Just don’t turn off the service until you ask a customer service person if you are within your prorated allotment. In my example above, where we used 1,000 megabytes in one day, we just need to leave the service on a while longer. 1,000 megabytes is approximately 1/5th of the monthly allotment, so leave the service on for a week, and you’ll be fine. Still call again for confirmation in case you used even more during that week. Worst case – you leave it on all month – that’s $60. Just don’t go over 5Gigs – nothing you can do about that one.

  3. John Speciale

    I’ve been using this Verizon service since Chris made me aware of it in a previous post, and it is FANTASTIC. I’ve turned it on and off for four RV trips and have been billed about $2 per day for each day the service is active. As Chris said, it doesn’t count against your phone plan minutes, and I haven’t come anywhere close to using the prorated data transfer allotment.

    This service is ideal for RVers. It’s almost too good to be true!

    Thanks again Chris!

  4. John Shelton

    I have been using the same Verizon internet service for nearly 2 years now. I have it on a slightly different plan than described here. I have an aircard and a plan with unlimited bandwidth useage. It costs $60/mo. if you also have a voice plan with verizon. (this is $60 for the internet plus whatever voice plan you have) As is mentioned in the article here, I have internet connection in some locations where I have less than reliable voice service. This service cannot be turned off and on at will and is subject to a two year contract as voice service is. The up side is that there is no limit that brings you a shocking bill when you least expect it. I have a USB aircard which will work equally well on my desktop at home. The service, although called “broadband”, will not work on a system that requires a broadband connection such as remote connection to a windows home server. It could, however, replace a dial-up connection at home if one wishes to do so. My observation is that it is no faster than the slowest dial-up I ever used. Don’t pay much attention to the fantastic numbers that Verizon literature touts. Remember the old “Quick-to-Net” that Verizon used to offer for free? This is only a tick faster outside of the major metropolitan areas. But………what is our rush anyway????

  5. Bob

    I use the Verizon service that Chris is talking about also, I use it about 2 months at a time 2 to 3 times a year and I think it’s Great. There are places that it don’t work like Fishing Bridge Camp grounds at Yellowstone but the car radio don’t work there either. I try to have service turned on at the beginning of my phone billing cycle, I have never ran over on my Data Allotment.

  6. Richard MConnell

    Read this blog with great interest because I just started using my cell for internet connection. Called my provider Altell to make sure I understood my billing. It is as follows: an extra $30 a month for the connection with no limit on minutes or amount of data transferred. Works for me.

  7. Hi Richard, did they tell you $30 or $25? Mine is $25 but maybe they have raised it?

  8. Del

    Chris: Forgive me if this was covered previously. Let me get this straight. As an example, say I get the BroadbandAccess without the aircard and use it via tethering on 1 and 2 January and disconnect it and not use it again until 5 and 6 January and disconnect for the rest of the month. I should get charged for 4/30th of $60?? Does Verizon automatically recognize the disconnect or do you have to call them and tell them you want to disconnect? Finally, I’ve seen posts somewhere that stated you had to tell Verizon that you wanted the plan that can be prorated. Is this the case? Thank you so much for sharing your insights and experience.

  9. Del,
    Yes, having the BBAC feature on just for 4 days should result in 4/30th of $60.
    and Yes, you have to call customer service to turn it off – each time. As for telling them you want the prorated plan … my understanding is that the BBAC feature (Broadband Access Connect) is that plan.

    About having it turned off … that is necessary because otherwise it’s still on, just not being used. You’re not being charge for usage … you’re being charged for the feature. If the feature is activated for your account, you’ll be charged whether you use it or not. Thus the need to call customer service to turn it off.

  10. Bob

    I have a Blackberry but use AT&T. I have unlimited email and internet with my plan. Can you tell me if this works with my AT&T service like it does Verizon?

  11. Bob,

    The cellular carriers offer data packages that support thier phones for things like email and some web surfing (difficult on a small screen) for $20/month – they are (or at least used to be) unlimited access – I think AT&T’s plan was called Media Connect or something like that – it is possible to tether such a phone and use that internet connection from a PC – note, that it is a violation of the TOS to do this – as long as you stick to email and limited web surfing, it shouldn’t be a risky proposition – however if you tried to download WinXP SP3 on such a connection, it would generate an alert at AT&T – large downloads from Microsoft to a cell phone are illogical –

    To be legal, you should buy a ‘data plan’ for about $60/month – I’m not positive about this, but I think you could dump the Media package and use the data package for email on the phone – and you could legally tether the phone to surf the web from your computer –

  12. A couple comments – I have both aircard access through AT&T and I have a Maxwell portable satellite (system cost about $1700 and an hour or two to setup – monthly charges for either are about $60/month –

    FAP’s can be a bit confusing – I have Hughesnet and it is a per 24 hour period limit (200MB) and they throttle you – I understand that WildBlue is a monthly limit (5GB) – if you acheive 80% of your limit, they send you an email, with follow up serivce termination – I’ve never exceeded 5GB/month (heavy surfer, lots of email, program downloads – very infrequent video), but it’s easy to exceed the 200MB – I kinda wished I had gotten WildBlue, although I haven’t been FAPed yet – as was noted, there is a 3 hour window of umlimited bandwidth on Huhghesnet –

    I don’t understand all the ins and outs of the FAPs – on the surface they make some sense – if Hughesnet used FAPs to keep the traffic down on a satellite and keep access speeds up, it would be a good thing – but I understand that what they do is put in FAPs and then can load more users onto a satellite – the bottom line is that the FAPs benefit Hughesnet in generating more income and really don’t benefit the users at all –

    I didn’t think AT&T had a limit, but they may have implemented a change when I wasn’t looking – I’ve had it for years –

    I was looking at the WiFi in Motion – sounds great and simple enough to implement, but I thought the price tag a bit steep –

    They may not be available anymore, but I have a PCMCIA card that uses an external antenna – the key is the external antenna – I’d be willing to bet that it will out perform an amplified signal any day – I think the ground plane was about $60 – If I am near populated areas, the little antenna on the card is fine – but remote areas, I put up the ground plane and plug it into the aircard – I’ve received signals when I’ve had no cell phone service pretty much all over the country – The White Mountains in NH is one such area that comes to mind that I couldn’t get cellular internet access –

    A simple ethernet switch for $20 will make wired network connections (I personally prefer a wired connection) – a $50 wireless router will make wireless network connections – and internet connection sharing is a snap in WinXP – it’s built into the OS –

    For less than $150, you should be able to accomplish what WiFi in Motion provides, with at least as good and probably even better signal quality – I know you can amplify a weak signal and improve performance, but a high gain antenna should get you a much better signal without all the electronics –

    I just wish my cell phone had an external antenna plug on it, which is one benefit from WiFi in Motion – if I understand it properly, WIM will increase the cellular signal and a cell phone may work with the amplified signal –

    Also, to be honest I dunno if you can obtain the newer express card slot aircards with external antennas in them –

    Another point, it used to be that a tethered cell phone wouldn’t perform as well as an aircard, but with the newer Quad band 3G phones, I’m not sure that is still valid –

    One of the problems with the aircards is getting help – the young folks in the stores know every nuance of what this phone or that phone will do, but not many know much about details of what an aircard will do –

    ===================================
    Bob,

    The cellular carriers offer data packages that support thier phones for things like email and some web surfing (difficult on a small screen) for $20/month – they are (or at least used to be) unlimited access – I think AT&T’s plan was called Media Connect or something like that – it is possible to tether such a phone and use that internet connection from a PC – note, that it is a violation of the TOS to do this – as long as you stick to email and limited web surfing, it shouldn’t be a risky proposition – however if you tried to download WinXP SP3 on such a connection, it would generate an alert at AT&T – large downloads from Microsoft to a cell phone are illogical –

    To be legal, you should buy a ‘data plan’ for about $60/month – I’m not positive about this, but I think you could dump the Media package and use the data package for email on the phone – and you could legally tether the phone to surf the web from your computer –

  13. Pingback: Internet with Tethered Cellphone

  14. Please help how do i connect a router to an altel tethered internet service i have a 2wire router and would like to use the wireless feature but dont know how

  15. You need a special cellular router like the Cradlepoint.

  16. Gary Mulder

    Hi Chris,

    I bought a Droid based on your recommendation. However, when I tried to use the PdaNet device to use it for hookup with my laptop I could not do it. I get an error 103 and 104 message at a key point and when I tried to follow up on that, was sent to something which, eventually urged me to buy a USBDreview which I did and installed which got real confusing to me.

    I’d gladly sign up for the $39 membership fee if I knew this could be solved, but am not sure it can. Can you help?

    Gary Mulder