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I am using my phone's built in Wifi Hotspot to share wifi with my laptop and my other devices. I am using android 2.3 (Gingerbread), and the phone I have is the HTC Desire Z.

Questions

Is it possible for a carrier to detect that I am using "Wifi Hotspot" and sharing my mobile data connection with other devices?

Furthermore, is Wifi Hotspot a feature that most android devices have? and is it a feature that can be disabled by the carrier (on a phone-by-phone basis)?

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The reason iPhone users were so easily found out is that the iPhone would use a different APN for tethering vs its own data connection. Android phones do not do this. –  Broam Oct 16 '12 at 19:24
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5 Answers

up vote 20 down vote accepted

It is not detectable, but using tethering on Android with an second device leaves a lot of traces:

  • User-Agent Headers within HTTP that come from non-mobile browser
  • Increased Traffic consumption
  • Connection to services that are not available on Android/Smartphone devices (e.g. World of Warcraft)

and many more I can't think of atm.

But I have never heard of a carrier that goes for a trial, even if it's a violation of services from most carrier contracts. IMHO Mobile carriers have other problems at the moment, like overall increased mobile data traffic because of the smartphone boom. These is currently handled by soft limits of data traffic, that when reached only allow traffic over 2G connections. Or, to answer your second question, if you buy a smartphone from some carriers, the build in tethering function is locked and not usable.

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One thing I tend to do is ssh from my tethered device and port forward to a remote proxy on my server. Then the only thing the network ever sees is encrypted SSH traffic. –  stsquad Oct 16 '12 at 19:12
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While your carrier wouldn't be able to directly detect you are using WiFi hotspot, they might notice that you are using a lot of data. This is often a red flag in their systems, and might get you a phone call and/or your bandwidth throttled/capped.

WiFi hotspot is not available on all devices. For instance, my og Droid with stock ROM doesn't offer this due to limitations artificially imposed by Verizon.

While a carrier cannot disable WiFi hotspot on a phone by phone basis, they most certainly can limit your bandwidth and/or cap it at a certain amount (for instance, I get full bandwith until I hit 2GB total, at which point it slows WAY down).

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I don't think they can detect.

Yes, Wifi Hotspot is a feature on all Android phones, I don't believe a carrier can block it on a phone-to-phone basis (one of the reasons why I love Android).

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Maybe I'm wrong on this, but I thought tethering worked by setting up NAT traversal and forwarding packets from your tethered device through your mobile device. This would leave a trace in the IP packets since the NATed ports need to be embedded in the communication for NAT to work. Since your IP packets aren't encrypted the carrier should easily be able to determine if you're tethering just by observing your data stream.

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No, you are wrong. NATed connections don't leave traces in the IP header that couldn't come from a normal connection too. –  Flow Oct 16 '12 at 20:17
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I just got off the phone with T-Mobile because I am being throttled and I was upset. He said I was not using tethering even though I had been so it appears that no, they can not see that you are tethering.

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Please don't ask questions in answers. –  Al E. Jan 24 '12 at 0:30
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