The Straight Dope

Go Back   Straight Dope Message Board > Main > General Questions

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 09-02-2011, 11:58 PM
Bottle of Smoke Bottle of Smoke is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2000
Can my wireless carrier tell if I'm using my phone as a wifi hotspot?

This came up when I was driving with my daughter and she said she wished we had wifi in the car for her ipod touch so she could message her facebook friends on the trip.

So that got me thinking: I have an android phone with a wifi hot spot app (built in as part of Froyo I believe) and a typical 5GB data plan. What I don't have is a separate tethering plan that most carriers (including mine -- US Cellular) seem to require.

What I can find on the US Cellular web site seems focused on tethering your phone to a PC, and is a bit unclear on just turning your phone into a hot spot every once in a while so other devices can share the data connection.

So if I were to turn on the wifi hot spot feature, would they be able to tell? Would I get in trouble? Or does it even matter? As it is, I never come close to using the 5GB cap I pay for each month right now. So adding another $25 per month for a tethering plan seems ridiculous and would amount to me paying twice for the privilege of using the same small amount of data. But I also don't want to run afoul of the rules.

So any ideas? Anyone else in the same boat?
Reply With Quote
Advertisements  
  #2  
Old 09-03-2011, 06:40 AM
CookingWithGas CookingWithGas is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 1999
Location: Tysons Corner, VA, USA
Posts: 9,659
The short answer to your question is yes, they can tell. Assuming you are not hacking anything.

I have Verizon and an HTC Thunderbolt, which is an Android phone with a hotspot feature. Verizon charges $20 per month to use the hotspot feature (basically this is wireless tethering) with a max of 2G of data per month. When I bought the phone I did not sign up for that feature. Just for kicks I tried it, and it worked. I called to make sure I wasn't going to get charged for it and they said it was a free promotion. At the end of the promotion I tried it again and now the phone gives me a screen that tells me to call Verizon to activate the feature. So they can control whether the feature works or not.

I also cannot tether with a cable direct to my PC.

My guess is that if you turn on the hotspot feature it will not even work. Or it will work and you will then get billed for it; depends on how US Cellular sets it up.
Reply With Quote
  #3  
Old 09-03-2011, 08:27 AM
enipla enipla is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Colorado Rockies.
Posts: 8,206
You might want to try junefabrics.com pdanet application. I used on my BB Storm for about a year or two. Worked pretty good. They have Android apps too.

Now the BB does not have wifi, and I used this to connect to my netbook via USB.

It's a one time fee of like $15. There is a free trial. Pretty easy to set up.

I ended up having problems with it with win 7 though I and broke down and bought a mifi hot spot.

ETA - Don't know if the provider could tell. I rarely use my phone. But when I do, iit was on the pdanet. I had no problems.

Last edited by enipla; 09-03-2011 at 08:28 AM..
Reply With Quote
  #4  
Old 09-03-2011, 10:00 AM
digs digs is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2002
Is there an app that'll tell your daughter "HEY! Quit trying to Facebook and look out the window. Or better yet, talk to your dad!"

I'd pay whatever it cost...
Reply With Quote
  #5  
Old 09-03-2011, 07:18 PM
Bottle of Smoke Bottle of Smoke is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2000
Thanks for the info. I kind of figured I may be out of luck. Oh well, it's not a big priority for me, but more of a "it would be cool if I could do that" kind of thing. But not cool enough where I'm going I'm going to pay $25 bucks a month more for it.

I have heard of pdanet so maybe I'll check that out.
Reply With Quote
  #6  
Old 09-04-2011, 12:00 AM
BigT BigT is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2008
I'm not exactly sure how they can tell unless you use their proprietary application to pull it off. Can someone explain this?

It's not like the mobile web and the real web use anything different. Sure, you might use more full sized sites instead of mobile ones, but a lot of people use the full sized sites anyways.

If I'm right, I'm guessing that pdanet is just an application that costs money, rather than freeware. If that's the case, there is likely a freeware alternative. This Google search holds promise.
Reply With Quote
  #7  
Old 09-04-2011, 12:37 AM
Reply Reply is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2003
Location: Arcata, CA
Posts: 6,732
@Bottle of Smoke: If you use a tethering app or root your phone for free WiFi tethering, they COULD tell if they really wanted to, but chances are they won't look into it unless you start using large amounts of data (streaming videos, gaming, etc.). An occasional glance at Facebook would probably fly under the radar.

---

@BigT: There's a cheaper alternative called EasyTether ($10, same function as PDANet). The free trials of both programs let you view all sites except secure ones (https).

As for how they can tell, network traffic from a computer is noticeably different from network traffic from phones. In general, computers:

* Use much more bandwidth (send and receive more data)
* Have a different browser "user agent" identifier that'll say, for example, Windows XP instead of Android
* Run apps that smartphones generally don't have... certain browser plugins, automatic updates (when was the last time your phone tried to update Windows?), etc.

These all leave obvious traces that carriers can look for if they really wanted to (though I'm not sure if they're legally allowed to). You could hypothetically hide all the evidence through a combination of software tweaks and routing network traffic through a third-party encrypted proxy (i.e., a VPN), but that requires a bit of know-how.

That said, even though they can tell, they usually don't bother. Unpaid tethering usually flies under the radar until you start racking up a lot of data every month, and then at that point they'll usually send you a letter or call you and tell you to stop or switch to a paid tethering plan.

Last edited by Reply; 09-04-2011 at 12:40 AM..
Reply With Quote
Reply

Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 06:07 AM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2014, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@chicagoreader.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Publishers - interested in subscribing to the Straight Dope?
Write to: sdsubscriptions@chicagoreader.com.

Copyright 2013 Sun-Times Media, LLC.