If you make minimal use of your laptop outside of your home, school or office, you can probably make do with Wi-Fi hotspots. Serious mobile Internet users can invest in a mobile Internet package, with the appropriate hardware and data plan. For everyone in between, the best compromise is often to use your cellular phone as a mobile modem. This requires some planning and a modest amount of setup.
Using your phone as a modem is called tethering, and requires a few preliminary steps. The first is to check whether your phone supports tethering. Your manual should tell you that. If not, search for information on the manufacturer's site or contact your phone service provider. You also need a cable to connect the phone and laptop, unless they're both Bluetooth-compatible. Finally, you need to call your cellular carrier to add tethering to your service plan, or switch to one that supports it. If your phone supports the feature, carriers' plans also often let you use your tethered phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot and share it with other devices.
Download and Setup
Major cellular carriers typically have a software utility you'll need to download to your laptop before you can tether with it. For example, Verizon's is called the VZ Access Manager. The company's website prompts you to select your computer's operating system, then the make and model of your phone, and enter your 10-digit cellular number. When you click the button to download the software, it will download and install itself with the correct settings already entered. Comparable software is available from other carriers, such as Sprint's Mobile Connect or SmartView.
To tether your phone, connect it to the laptop with a USB cable or wirelessly, through Bluetooth. Most modern phones use standard mini-USB cables, but a few require a custom cable. Once the phone is connected, place it in "modem" or "data" mode. Phones do this differently, so consult your manual or do an Internet search to find the necessary instructions. Next, tell your laptop to use the cellular phone as a modem. Your carrier's tethering software might install a menu option or icon for you to use. Otherwise use your Control Panel, and look for your phone to be listed as a modem under the Network settings.
Using your tethered cell phone as a modem doesn't work if you're outside the coverage area, and speeds vary widely depending on your phone and the carrier's service. Data usage is another key issue, and the cost can add up if you browse too enthusiastically. For example, Verizon estimates that a 2GB plan would allow for 1,200 e-mails or 4 hours of streaming video. On a 6GB plan, that increases to 4,000 e-mails or 12 hours of video. Fees for over-usage vary by carrier, but can be steep. Some plans include a separate data allowance for tethering, but most data limits are shared with the phone.
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