Update | We've got step-by-step instructions on how to activate the free personal wifi hotspot on your iPhone or iPad – click here.
Previous | Sick of hunting out public Wi-Fi hotspots or paying for expensive hotel internet while you travel? If you have an iPhone 4, you'll soon be able to use its internet connection with your laptop over Wi-Fi.
Apple is introducing a new "personal hotspot" feature for iPhone 4 users.
It will be a free upgrade released to all customers from March 12th. To get the feature, you'll need to connect the phone to a PC or Mac, open iTunes, and install the "iOS 4.3" software update when prompted.
The iPhone has had "tethering" for some time, allowing the phone to be used as a 3G modem for internet access if plugged in to a computer via USB, or via Bluetooth wireless.
However, the USB method is physically cumbersome and requires carrying the cable everywhere, while the Bluetooth method lacks the simplicity and familiarity of connecting to Wi-Fi.
Activating the personal hotspot feature in the iPhone will be as easy as going into the settings menu and sliding the personal hotspot toggle to 'on'.
You'll also be able to set a password for the Wi-Fi network to prevent other people from stealing your phone's data connection.
A familiar feature for Android users
Despite the company's unique ability to drum up media buzz, Apple is not breaking new ground in offering the option to convert a smartphone to a Wi-Fi hotspot.
In fact, it held off doing it as long as it could until competitive pressure from the latest Google Android 2.2-based phones (such as the HTC Desire Z, pictured right), which can do it, forced its hand.
Telcos don't like tethering because it allows customers to use much more data through their phone than they would otherwise, and reduces sales of separate 3G modems and plans.
Indeed, Apple has designed the iPhone so that carriers must give their approval to customers using it as a tethered modem or Personal Wi-Fi hotspot. In the USA, telcos charge an additional monthly fee for the privilege.
In Australia, all telcos allow iPhones to be used in tethered mode without additional cost, but limit the amount of data that can be used in a month.
Telstra has been particularly aggressive in cutting its prices for its excellent Next G network recently, offering customers a $49 plan including $400 worth of calls and 1GB of data. Business customers have also been receiving SMSes from Telstra announcing that they've been upgraded to 2GB data free of charge.
Using the iPhone as a personal hotspot overseas
Using the iPhone as a personal hotspot while in Australia, with telcos' generous local data plans, is a no-brainer, as it makes getting your laptop and/or tablet onto the net extremely easy.
However, using an iPhone overseas and avoiding global roaming costs isn't quite as straightforward.
We've recently covered some SIM cards that make using data overseas an affordable proposition, where it has previously been outrageously expensive.
The new Tru SIM provides data for only 15c/MB in the UK, or 35c/MB in the US -- a tiny fraction of the $10.00-$20.00/MB you'll pay with Telstra, Optus, Vodafone or 3's global roaming. Tru can also provide Micro-SIM cards that are compatible with iPhone 4.
Another SIM card, Bridge AsiaRoam Data SIM, offers unlimited data in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand or India for a rate of $US12 per day.
However, Bridge is not offering a micro-SIM for iPhone 4, only a traditional sized SIM. You may be able to use it in iPhone 4 by using a $5 SIM-cutter to cut it down to the correct size, but there's no guarantee that the iPhone will be able to activate the personal hotspot capability -- we're making enquiries with Bridge Mobile.
Optus will soon be introducing its own version of the Bridge Mobile AsiaRoam service. It will be called "Bridge DataRoam Unlimited", and existing Optus Mobile customers will be able to get it added on to their account for the Australian dollar equivalent of $US27 for three days, or $US40 for five days.
Optus has not yet confirmed when it will be launching the add-on, and Australian Business Traveller is not yet aware of whether Optus will allow iPhone 4 tethering or personal hotspot use.