If you spend much of your life working from hotel rooms in various cities, the good news is that most of them are now equipped with high-speed Internet access. The bad news comes at checkout, when you realize that 24-hour stretches of high-speed Internet at $10.95 actually do add up.
That cost is a good argument for using the local 3G mobile network instead. However, most laptops still don't have 3G access built in, and most phones are not always an adequate replacement for a laptop.
Like many business travelers, three guys from Halifax, Nova Scotia--Patrick Hankinson, his brother Stephen Hankinson and friend Timothy Burke--experienced this challenge firsthand. To overcome it, they created a tethering application that allows laptops to tie into a smartphone such as the BlackBerry to use its 3G connection and your existing mobile data service plan as a high-speed Internet alternative.
"It came out of our own experience--being tired of paying a lot for Internet access at hotels," said Patrick Hankinson. "We started with the BlackBerry because we all had BlackBerries."
Their idea gave birth last year to their company, TetherBerry. By January 2010, the $49.95 app had been loaded from BlackBerry App World onto more than 70,000 BlackBerries. Some users undoubtedly were looking to beat hotel fees, but tethering also is viable anywhere you're out of Wi-Fi range but still within reach of a 3G signal.
TetherBerry recently changed its name to Tether, and with good reason: It started offering an Android beta version of the app and is considering versions for Nokia smartphones and the iPhone.
Though Tether's app doesn't require extra usage fees, strings are attached. Tethering has to be enabled by carriers, and AT&T, for example, has yet to do that for the iPhone. But, for an increasing number of smartphone users, hotel access fees and Wi-Fi availability in general are no longer barriers to when and where you can use your laptop.
Dan O'Shea is a Chicago-based writer who has been covering telecom, mobile and other high-tech topics for nearly 20 years.