Mobile data charges: some good news for once

You. Yes, you! Do you realise you're carrying around a powerful portable wireless hotspot? Do you?

That's it, look blankly at us. Allow us to explain. You might have seen, in mobile phone stores, adverts for 'mi-fi' portable wireless hotspots. You carry them around, and turn them on, and they connect to the mobile internet and beam out a wi-fi signal you can use with your laptop or tablet.

Great, huh? Except: you already have one of those. It's your smartphone.

If your smartphone can connect to Wi-Fi - and every iPhone and Android phone, and many older Nokias and the like can - then it can broadcast wi-fi. (Though you might need recent software - iOS 4, for example.) And you can use that function with your computer or tablet for mobile browsing anywhere. It's called 'tethering'.

There's just one problem: tethering has always cost more than surfing the net on your phone does. Not only does it use a bit more data sometimes, for example because you load the full version rather than the mobile version of websites; but operators have always charged an additional fee - sometimes £20 - for the right to use your data allowance on tethered devices.

Well, call it the iPad effect, or just a random act of kindness; but O2 are breaking ranks. They've just announced they're dropping their tethering surcharges on several monthly data packages. Engadget has the full details, but essentially, as long as you're on a monthly 100MB, 500MB or 1GB package you can tether away without paying extra (pay monthly only).

Of course, if you're on a 100GB package and you're tethering your laptop, you're going to burn through that data veeeeery quickly. We applaud this move, but fear O2 might make all the lost charges back through people who blithely go over the data limits the very first time they get their tether on.

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