Written by: Bogdan Patru
What is tethering?
Tethering is the sharing of a device’s internet connection to another device, usually from a phone to a PC, for example.
The resulting connection is classified as being a hotspot, making the device a portable router. This hotspot and the tethering itself will be closely monitored by your mobile service provider.
Usually, while you might have unlimited data usage, the tethering is limited (20GB for instance). This means that, while you can create hotspots and connect with other devices to this internet connection, you are only allowed up to 20GB of data usage.
Enter – VPNs!
There’s certainly nothing new about the VPNs in the digital enterprise. They ensure your connection is safe, they act as an adblocker, hide your IP, and even hide your traffic from your ISP.
It’s obvious why you would want to run it on your phone.
Yes, you can – by using a VPN on both devices that you want to tether.
For example, NordVPN, currently, the best method of creating a tethering hotspot while using a VPN.
However, it’s not as simple as you might think, and we’ll see why.
What happens when you have a VPN running, and you tether another device to your Android phone, assuming this is the device whose data you’re planning to use?
Simple – the connection that your Android phone emits is encrypted and secured. This means that no one will be able to check it out or tune in to see what you’ve been doing on the world wide web.
However, does the VPN also cover your tracks by hiding your tethering usage limit? In other words, can you go over the restrictions imposed by your mobile service provider?
From what I’ve read across the forums, the answer seems to be no. The VPN alone cannot achieve that.
The ISP will still see the tethering in progress, despite their inability to inspect the data packets that your phone keeps sending through the VPN’s private tunneling.
Even more, most of the users, especially those that use T-Mobile, claim that their traffic speed has been throttled excessively since using a VPN connection.
If you use NordVPN then your phone carrier will not be able to notice you use a VPN. This is because NordVPN has a huge number of servers and IP addresses. There’s just too many for any operator to classify all of them.
That’s right, by merely having a functional VPN on your phone can lead to your speed being throttled by your mobile service provider. It seems that they automatically classify VPN traffic as belonging to the tethering APN.
And I told you that the tethering traffic is limited, so the calculations come off as evident from the get-go.
Phones generally use different data sources for normal data usage and tethering usage. Two APNs are dealing with this.
And when you activate the tethering function, you will always be using the tethering APN, unless you change that, of course.
How to do that? Well, with iPhones, all you need to do is to jailbreak I, and the problem’s solved. Break into the phone’s underlying security protocols and bypass all the protection measures, to then change the preset APN.
With Android, things get more complicated than that.
Yes, you can achieve it.
As I’ve previously mentioned it, dealing with iPhones is a walk in the park. Jailbreaking is your backdoor into the device’s internal protocols, which you can then change accordingly.
With Android phones, no one’s been able to find a failproof method of doing this. If there is a way, someone will see it sooner or later.
This is precisely the case here. There is an app that you can use to hide the fact that you’re tethering. The hotspot will become invisible, and all your ISP will see you as using a standard data connection.
It’s called PdaNet+, and it can be downloaded for free from their website. It works like this:
I’ve noticed that some mobile phones are likely more predisposed to classify your VPN as being a hotspot, thus consuming your tethering traffic.
Samsung Galaxy S8+, and S9 in many cases, as well as OnePlus, are the focal points of many flaming comments on the forums I’ve visited. Many users complain that their ISP was counting the VPN usage as hotspot traffic.
Even if you use certain adblockers like Adguard, the moment your traffic leaves your phone through the tethering connection, it becomes unencrypted traffic that can be tracked by your ISP.
It seems as though a VPN can only encrypt the traffic and data connection on a single device alone, the one that runs the VPN. The VPN tunneling becomes useless because the mobile service provider can see the data packets can’t be inspected anymore.
This means that something has happened, and even though they have no definite proof that you’re illegally tethering, they can throttle your speed without further explanation.
As such, please avoid the three phone mentioned above models if you care about your privacy.
The conclusion is that you can create a tethering connection to another phone while using a VPN, but bypassing the tethering limits imposed by the mobile service provider requires thinking outside the box.
For iPhones – jailbreak the security protocols
For Android devices – the PdaNet+ app that creates a fool-proof tunneling connection which mirrors the protocols that your normal data usage APN would implement.
Be aware of the fact that T-Mobile has been known to ignore the Net Neutrality pact, and that it can throttle your speed at the slightest suspicion of VPN tethering, and that some mobile devices are naturally more liable to be tracked.