How to Save on Your Data Plan When Tethering the iPhone and Using as a Modem

On a recent trip to see Mom, I didn’t have fast Internet access. The first two days, I used NetZero dial-up and wanted to cry. To maintain my sanity and good nature, I called AT&T customer service (611 on my iPhone) and added tethering to my plan (using my iPhone as a modem over Bluetooth, WiFi, or via a USB cable).

Tethering will cost me another $20.00 a month…total rip-off! I have a 2GB data plan, and the tethering capability is a built-in feature in my iPhone. It shouldn’t matter how I use my data, tethering or not (according to, the FCC is examining this issue).

To activate this Personal Hotspot on my iPhone, I went into Settings, General, Network, Personal Hotspot). I was immediately cruising at a very decent speed. I didn’t want to go over my monthly data limit before heading back home three weeks later (another 1GB of additional data would cost me another $10.00!). Here’s what I did to make sure I didn’t.

  • Downloaded  free Onavo app. Named a “money-saving, must-have app for EVERY iPhone data user” by TechCrunch, Onavo for iPhone/iPad is free and simple to use. It runs in the background, reporting data usage and compressing downloaded traffic. Once installed, you can continue to use your iPhone/iPad just as before.

    UPDATE: For some reason, the Onavo app has recently caused my Personal Hotspot option to disappear. I had to delete the app in iTunes and restore the iPhone. I’d never done this before so I called Apple to walk me through it. Note: On some phones, you may be able to just delete the app and restart to get the Hotspot back.

  • Checked in with AT&T. Although AT&T sent me text updates on my data usage, I also dialed *3282# to see with my own eyes in a text message where I stood.
  • Avoided downloading anything. I waited until I was in a café on my laptop with WiFi before downloading anything (most of the time).
  • Monitored number of streaming videos. I love YouTube, and anytime I need to learn how to do something, I go there first. I also use Netflix a lot, especially when I’m somewhere waiting. I watched a few videos, but kept track of my data usage to make sure I wasn’t hogging all of it.
  • Unplugged iPhone from laptop when not using. The hotspot feature goes to sleep when nothing’s connected (you can leave the iPhone’s Personal Hotspot command turned on).
  • Blocked automatic download of large messages in Outlook. If a message is over a certain size, you can block it. You’ll see just enough of the message to determine if you want to finish downloading it or not. I always waited until I was back on regular WiFi and off my Personal Hotspot before a complete download. (To set this up in Outlook 2007: Ctrl+Alt+S and Edit, All Accounts. Under Folder Options, tick the Download only headers for items larger than box, and choose the size you want. I’m doing 50 KB.)

I’m back home now, and I was able to maintain my connection to the world, enjoy as many videos as I wanted (almost), and stay on top of email with data to spare.

IMPORTANT: When I travel outside the US, I’ll purchase some type of temporary service and gadget in whatever country I’m visiting.

If you’ve found other ways to save on your data plan, please leave a comment.