Android mobile hotspot and tethering: Avoid data overages

Jack Wallen offers some tips for avoiding data overages with mobile hotspots and tethering on your Android device.

I frequently tether my laptop to an Android device or connected to that mobile device's hotspot. There are times when it's necessary. This is a great service that some providers offer -- for a fee, of course. The problem is, using the device in such a manner can really gobble up your data. In a single day, you could easily go over your data limit. Once you've done that, who knows how bad that bill will be.

However, it doesn't have to be that way. There are tricks and tips you can follow to help avoid those extra costs, and in some cases, get around the cost all together. Let's dig in and see how we can avoid data overages with mobile hotspots and tethering.

The quick and easy

First, the easiest way you can avoid overages is to limit how you use the tether or hotspot. If you're connecting to your tether and then jumping on media-heavy sites or downloading large files, you're going to eat up those MBs quickly. Do yourself a favor:

  • Make sure you have all the files you need BEFORE you depend upon the hotspot or tether
  • Do not surf the net -- use your browser sparingly
  • If there are media-heavy sites that you must browse, install extensions on your browser that block ads, images, and flash. Here are some solid extensions to consider:
1. Chrome 2. Firefox

Here's one of my best tips for those of you who do a lot of chatting on Google Talk or Facebook Chat. Both of those services are great for communicating with co-workers, clients, colleagues, and friends -- but when you're tethered or using your mobile as a hotspot, they can suck up a lot more bandwidth than necessary. Instead of using the web-based sites for those chat services, use a standalone service like Pidgin. This cross-platform chat client can connect with nearly all the major chat services and will keep your bandwidth to a bare minimum.

Hotspots are great, but even more phones are set up for tethering. Although the same rules above apply to keeping down the costs, you'll find that some provider either charge insane rates for tethering plans or the mobile devices do not have tethering as an option at all. There's a way around that. Now, what I'm going to show you isn't terribly easy. This will not prevent data overages, but it will allow you to tether without having a tether plan on your phone (or with a phone that doesn't have tethering enabled). Make note, you should still consider the rules I outlined above.

This will work on the following platforms:

  • Windows 7/Vista/XP (32-bit and 64-bit)
  • Mac OS X 10.7/10.6/10.5/10.4
  • Ubuntu 10.4+
  • Fedora 13+

You will also need:

The steps for getting this up and running are very different for each platform, so I'll just walk you through the generic steps.

  1. Install the Software Developer Kit on your PC (or laptop) -- this should also install adb, which is necessary
  2. Install Easy Tether Software on the PC (or laptop) -- do this according to the requirements of the platform, and make sure you install it without the mobile device attached
  3. Enable USB debugging on the mobile device by tapping Menu | Settings | Applications | Development | USB debugging
  4. Plug in your mobile device
  5. (These steps will be demonstrated using Ubuntu) Issue the command easytether enumerate, which will display the devices ID number
  6. Connect EasyTether to the device by issuing the command easytether connect ### (where ### is the number you received back from the enumerate command)
  7. Install EasyTether on your mobile device from the Android Market
  8. Run the EasyTether application and walk through the simple EasyTether Setup wizard. This wizard will walk you through the process from beginning to end (including how to do so on a platform by platform basis).
Figure A below shows the second step in the process of setting up the app for a Linux platform. Figure A

If the PC doesn't have an internet connection, you can download the necessary app to the phone and then transfer it.

If you tap the Download to Computer button, you will be given the URL to download the software (that URL is listed above in the "You will also need" section). The rest of the wizard is just instructions about what to do on the PC side (which, again, will vary depending upon your platform).

Eventually, you'll land on the main EasyTether window (see Figure B). Here you Activate EasyTether (more on this in a bit), enable to the USB connection, and configure the Settings (DNS and UDP passthrough). Figure B

This is the main EasyTether window.

There are two different versions of EasyTether:

  • Lite: Free version that blocks HTTPS, Instant messengers, and game console tethering
  • Pro: The full version costs $9.99 (USD) and has zero restriction

I highly recommend that you give the lite version a go to make sure you can get it up and running before you drop the coin for the full version. However, spending $9.99 is far cheaper than paying the charges for a monthly tether plan or switching providers just so you can get a phone that has tethering available.

I've found that using a smartphone as either a hotspot or a tethering device is a fantastic way to get network connectivity where none would be available otherwise. But with either type of connectivity, you still have to use caution or you'll wind up with a mobile bill to break the bank. Give these suggestions a try, and see if they don't keep your data pipeline cleaner and more cost effective.

By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....