Q: I have an iPad 2 which uses O2 as its carrier. I am about to buy an iPhone 4S on O2 as well, and am wondering if I can get rid of the iPad 2 connection and drive it off my iPhone?
A: From a technical point of view this is definitely possible via a feature known as Personal Hotpot, introduced about two years with iOS 4. The Personal Hotspot feature allows you to share your iPhone’s data connection via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth with up to five devices, or with your computer via a wired USB connection.
To use the feature, you simply need to go into Settings and look for Personal Hotspot; if you’ve never configured the feature before, it may initially be hidden under General, Network, but once you’ve enabled it at least once it should appear on the main Settings screen, as shown above. Once enabled, your iPad should be able to find a Wi-Fi access point with the name of your iPhone; simply connect to this Wi-Fi access point and use the password shown on the iPhone Personal Hotspot screen and you’re good to go.
The catch here is that not all carriers offer the Personal Hotspot feature, and some carriers charge additional fees above and beyond basic data usage fees. According to Apple’s article on Locating Wireless Carriers, O2 appears to support Personal Hotspot; the feature is also colloquially known as “tethering” and many carriers simply include tethering as part of your normal data allotment while others require a special plan to make use of the feature. It is best to contact your carrier to determine if you need to have a specific data plan on your iPhone in order to access the feature or to avoid specific fees.
Barring any additional fees from your carrier, using Personal Hotspot to access the Internet on your iPad can be much more economical than paying for a separate data plan, but there are some considerations that you should be aware of. Firstly, you’ll be consuming the battery on two devices while doing this, thereby shortening the battery life of your iPhone for other uses such as phone calls. Depending on how much you plan to use your iPad with Personal Hotspot, you may want to consider an additional battery case or pack for your iPhone. Secondly, you’ll also be using your iPhone data plan for both devices; with larger data plans this is unlikely to be a problem unless you’re streaming a lot of video or downloading large files, but it’s something you’ll need to keep an eye on, particularly if you’re on a 1GB or lower plan.
On the other hand, using Personal Hotspot with an iPad has the advantage of allowing you to bypass many of the cellular data restrictions that Apple has built into iOS. Since as far as the iPad is concerned, you’re using a Wi-Fi connection, the 50MB limit on App Store and iTunes Store downloads does not apply; further, provided your carrier offers a fast enough cellular data connection you’ll potentially see better video quality with video streaming apps, which normally use a lower bit-rate over cellular data connections.