When it comes to using your mobile data however you see fit, Android has a clear advantage over the iPhone.
If there's one thing Android is good at, it's tethering. Any handset running Android 2.3 Gingerbread or newer is able to provide a tethered internet connection over Wi-Fi, with any SIM card and any carrier. This is exactly how tethering should be -- it is, after all, simply another way to use the data included in your plan.
With iOS, it's much more tightly controlled. Apple gives telcos the final say over whether an iPhone user is allowed to use their phone for tethering, probably because of the US history of telcos offering unlimited data plans.
In Australia (and virtually all other countries) it shouldn't be a problem because we have volume-metered internet plans. All the major telcos provide tethering free of charge on monthly billed iPhone plans now.
But where it does become a problem is when using some prepaid SIM cards in Australia, or a foreign SIM card when roaming overseas. Smaller virtual mobile networks reselling airtime on a major network like Optus or Vodafone may not be able to offer it either.
What about Windows Phone 7? Sadly, much as we'd like to see a third viable competitor to iOS and Android, Microsoft has dropped the ball on this one. Some handsets running the 'Mango' 7.5 version of Windows Phone may have Wi-Fi tethering, but only if they have a specific Wi-Fi chip -- Broadcom 4329 -- and only if the handset maker has chosen to implement it. Like Apple, Microsoft also hands control to the telcos over whether tethering is allowed, so it won't necessarily work with all SIM cards and plans.
How telcos lock out tethering on the iPhone
Ever wondered exactly how telcos lock you out of iPhone tethering? The info is not readily available, so we asked Craig Whitmore, owner of www.unlockit.co.nz
, a web site that provides over-the-air iPhone configuration for almost any SIM card worldwide, to explain:
"On iPhones, there are built-in iPhone Carrier Configuration files (.IPCC) which have in them settings to tell the iPhone how to connect for data/MMS/tethering on various carriers. In the past you could make up an IPCC file which you could use to change any setting for any carrier in it, but since iOS 4 Apple has only allowed them to be used if they're internally signed with an encrypted string. My site generates downloadable MobileConfig files that allow various settings to be reconfigured separately to the carrier configuration file. One limitation with them is that you can only set the data APN, not the one needed for tethering. Carriers set three APNs -- data, MMS and tethering. In the telco's billing system, the data and MMS APNs are enabled on your account normally by default, but the telco will only let the iPhone connect to the third APN if you have 'bought' the tethering option from them [in Australia all the major telcos provide it free of charge but it won't necessarily be enabled on a SIM card that wasn't provisioned for iPhone use by the telco]. The iPhone checks if it can connect via the tethering APN and if it can, it will show you the tethering option. If it can't authenticate via the tethering APN then it won't show you the option."