iPhone internet tethering shootout

Wi-Fi vs USB vs Bluetooth: which method is best for tethering your iPhone? With the introduction of ‘Personal Hotspot’ (Wi-Fi internet tethering) in iOS 4.3, I wanted to find out how it compared to the existing USB and Bluetooth tethering options. The graphic below shows the results (download speed and remaining battery power) based on a test tethering my iPhone to my MacBook Pro using Wi-FI, USB and Bluetooth. Each test was run for 20 minutes, starting with a full battery and no apps (except the Settings and Clock) running on the iPhone. For this duration, I used my MacBook Pro to browse websites (as I normally would) and to test the download speed of the connection. Note: My iPhone is connected to the Optus 3G network.

iPhone tethering results

Based on these tests, I have concluded that:

  • Wi-Fi is the best tethering option for speed, convenience and features (e.g. multiple connections). I’d recommend connecting the iPhone to mains or USB power to prevent battery drain.
  • USB is the best tethering option for power saving. Keep in mind the power you save on your iPhone will be consumed from the computer battery (if it’s a notebook that’s not connected to mains power).
  • Bluetooth is the worst tethering option and I see no reason why you should use it over the Wi-Fi or USB options!
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  • http://www.mckayphotography.com.au Darryn

    Nice tests, exactly what I was looking for as trying to decide whether to keep my wireless modem or just use my iphone. From my tests there seems to be a lot of variation in speeds (probably due to the network) but I have also found wifi seems better

    • http://www.robv.net Rob V

      Thanks for your comments, Darryn. Even though I conducted each test a few times, I agree there are many variables that can affect the results, therefore the speed and performance tests may not be overly scientific. From what I’ve read elsewhere though, others tend to agree that Wi-Fi is the best tethering option.

      It would be worth testing the speed of your modem connection using speedtest.net, though I’d imagine iPhone Wi-Fi tethering will perform well enough for your needs and may make the modem redundant!

  • Anonymous

    That’s what I am searching for, thanks for posting your test results.
    One question though:
    What about the Battery Life of the Laptop, say a MBA.
    What drained more energy during the test, switching on WiFi, Bluetooth or both switched off using USB?

    I tend to use a Bluetooth mouse, is it more efficient to use Bluetooth then, keeping wifi switched off, speaking for the laptop of cause, or still better to use one of the other options?

    Assuming I have a full iPhone, it would give me:
    100 / (7 * 3) = 4.76190476h of surf time with Bluetooth
    100 / (6 * 3) = 5.55555556h of surf time with WiFi
    and unlimited hours of surf time with USB

    But you see, Laptop Battery Lifetime is important too, to measure overall efficiency.

    I really would like to ask Apple that question, but I am afraid, they couldn’t answer it.

    Sorry for the -maybe- nerdish question.

    • http://www.robv.net Rob V

      Thanks for your comments 8_1. The question you ask crossed my mind while I was testing. But I conducted each test with my MacBook Pro connected to AC power, to eliminate that variable. Sorry I don’t have any results on the battery consumption of the computer, though I agree it’s an important consideration which is perhaps closer to how people would use iPhone tethering.

      Perhaps is someone else has done such testing, they can post their findings here?

  • guest

    Is there anyway that the iphone does not charge itself up so that it does not consume battery from my laptop? (assuming the laptop is not connected to mains power) Can we change a setting in Iphone for this?

    • http://www.robv.net Rob V

      Hello. I’m not aware of anyway to disable USB charging via the settings. I have noticed when connecting the iPhone to my Macbook Pro via some USB hubs (unpowered), the iPhone won’t charge but can still sync.

      I get the idea that you maybe trying to reduce the drain on your laptop, but remember the power drain on your tethered laptop is much less and slower than the drain on your iPhone, when using it as a wireless hotspot.

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  • Andre

    You have no consider the battery life of the notebook, y last longer with blouttooth maybe?

  • Jtp0099

    The reason to use Bluetooth tethering is because WiFi tethering disables itself after 90 seconds of inactivity. Its a pain. For reference: