The Treatment of Tethered Data on iOS

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tethered data

I had a thought the other day about an issue with tethering: the receiving device doesn’t realize it’s on a tethered connection. When I used to tether my MacBook to the LTE connection on my iPad, the MacBook has no idea that there’s a nuance to this connection — that there’s a very limited set of 1 GB of data in the month, and not the 400 GB afforded to me through my home cable connection.

When I tether my iPad Air 2 to my iPhone 6S Plus, the iPad just thinks it’s on Wi-Fi, even though there’s a special icon to symbolize that the iPad is on a tethered connection. That’s interesting because it shows that there’s some recognition of the type of connection (tethered as opposed to a Wi-Fi signal from a router). But it’s too bad that this distinction is only visual, and not practical. iOS recognizes the tethered connection, but it won’t treat it any differently from a Wi-Fi connection at home.

At times this can be useful to ‘cheat’ the cellular download limits built into iOS (e.g., 100 MB maximum for app downloads over cellular). If I *really* need to download an application that’s over that 100 MB limit, the only way for me to do it over cellular is to share my iPhone’s connection with my Air 2. I like having the choice to sacrifice a large portion of my data plan to download a crucial app, when I’m in a pinch.

However, the way tethering is handled can easily work against me, if I’m not careful. If my iPad has a lot of photos to upload to iCloud Photo Library, it would be very easy for me to accidentally suck my data plan dry while tethering. There’s no indicator anywhere in iOS to show that an app is uploading or downloading in the background, so this could easily happen without my knowledge.

I think the tethering interface in iOS could use some tweaking. The ideal would be to have an iPad recognize when it was tethered to an iPhone and treat the resulting data connection as if it were cellular. But that might be too bold. A simpler change would be displaying how much data was used, per device, during a tethering session. This would at least provide some context about the current session and let me make more informed decisions about how to use my precious cellular data.


Thomas

My name is probably Thomas (yes, it is). I'll be able to help you figure out why Evernote isn't syncing, or recommend your favourite new RSS reader to you. That's partly because I am enamoured with the iOS ecosystem and hardware, but mostly because I'm Canadian.

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