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Mobile Tethering: A Tech Journalist's Appreciation

We take tethering for granted today, but if you take it away, you quickly realize just how much you need it.

mobile tethering

I never realized how much I relied on tethering—using a mobile device as a mobile hotspot—until I signed up a few years ago for a new Verizon Wireless data plan for my smartphone that didn't include tethering.

"Sure," I told the Verizon rep when he offered to give me extra gigs of data at the same price in exchange for dropping the ability to tether my phone to my laptop or other devices. "No problem."

Quickly, though, I regretted that seemingly inconsequential decision while aboard an Amtrak train heading to New York City from my home in central Pennsylvania to cover a technology event. Amtrak trains have free on-board WiFi, I mused as the train made its way from the green agricultural countryside in Lancaster County to the urban canyons of Manhattan. Of course, I thought, I don't need tethering.

Oh, how wrong was I.

Amtrak may have WiFi listed as a service on its trains, but it is largely not something that passengers can rely on. The service, to be kind, is spotty at best. It drops out at the worst possible times and is so unreliable as to be essentially something that you can't use.

It was sad that I learned this harsh reality almost immediately after signing up for a two-year commitment to my no-tethering Verizon plan, but that's the breaks.

So for two years, I've tested almost every portable mobile hotspot that companies asked me to check out. There was the device that let you pay for mobile WiFi one gig at a time—which sounded great until you ran out of capacity in the middle of a trip and were left stranded. Then there was another gadget that touted its fast 4G speeds, but the company failed to mention the device wasn't backward-compatible with 3G networks and would drop your connection when 4G networks disappeared from your range. That may not sound like much of a problem in urban areas, but on the Amtrak route from Pennsylvania to New York City, certain rural stretches have no 4G. Another sad lesson learned by experience.

So when it was time for me to get a new smartphone and review my mobile plan this year, I chose a new Verizon plan with more data, a lower price and tethering capabilities once again.

It's the greatest move I've made in my personal technology life in years. Once again, I can connect effortlessly to the internet, email and everything else I need from wherever I am relaxing, working or visiting.

No more connectionless frustrations—unless, of course, my train enters a long tunnel along the way. I don't know how I survived without tethering for so long.

I know. It's just tethering, which seems so simple. But to me, it is one of the greatest inventions ever because it brings connectivity to me day or night, no matter where I am.

So Verizon, don't even think about taking my tethering away again. I'm not going back to an untethered life.