Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Tethering iPhone to MacBook

It was so nice out today, after a less than stellar summer so far, that I decided to take my laptop and go sit outside somewhere for coffee. The spot I picked (Pacific Gallery & Cafe) doesn't have wireless so it seemed like a good time to figure out how to tether my MacBook (13" unibody) to my iPhone (3Gs) for internet access.

It didn't turn out to be so easy. First you have to enable bluetooth on both devices (I hadn't brought a cable or that might have been an easier approach). Then you pair the devices. This went ok other than a little searching to find the appropriate settings.

But after pairing successfully, you're still not connected. Pulling down the bluetooth menu from the menu bar showed the iPhone but Connect to Network was grayed out (disabled). My network preferences showed a Bluetooth PAN (Personal Area Network) but it said the "cable" (!?) was disconnected. Not very helpful. In the Bluetooth preferences the tools menu (the "gear" at the bottom) had a Connect to Network that wasn't grayed out, but it also didn't seem to do anything.

If I picked the MacBook on the iPhone the Bluetooth preferences on the MacBook would switch to connected and then immediately switch back to unconnected.

Of course, I googled for the problem. A lot of the results were about how to get around AT&T not allowing tethering. But I was on Rogers (in Canada) and they supposedly do allow tethering.

Apart from the AT&T results, there seemed to be quite a few people with similar problems, but no real consensus on a solution. Some people claimed if you simultaneously hit connect on both the MacBook and the iPhone then it would work. It didn't for me. Some people suggested removing the bluetooth devices from both the MacBook and the iPhone and re-pairing. That didn't seem to help either.

Finally, one person said to restart the MacBook. That worked! I had to laugh because when people ask me about computer problems one of the first things I always suggest is to restart. But I don't expect to have to do that on Mac OS X.

The sad part is that even after I got it working it was too slow to be usable. I couldn't even bring up Gmail because it would time out. Pinging the name server was giving a response time of 4 seconds (4000 ms)! The iPhone was showing 5 bars and a 3G connection, but obviously I wasn't getting a good connection. Browsing on the iPhone was also very slow so it wasn't just the tethering.

I'll have to try it again when I've got a better 3G connection. I'm not sure if it's going to work easily in the future or not. Some of the people reporting problems had it working for a while and then it quit so I'm not totally optimistic. Maybe using a cable will be simpler. I wonder if the dedicated USB cell "modems" work better. (I would hope I'd be able to use my existing data plan?)


Larry Reid said...

I find it interesting that is doesn't "just work" even on a Mac. There's something about tethering that's harder than we think, or maybe no one has bothered to make it work easily.

You might have just had bad luck on a day when the name servers are swamped. I did a reverse lookup on the Fido iPhone name servers and they were servers in the States somewhere. Maybe they get overwhelmed and slow everything down -- I'm assuming that a 4 second ping means at least 4 seconds for every name lookup. That might slow down your surfing significantly.

andrew said...

Yeah, it's sad when they can't even make it work between two of their own devices.

From your blog post it sounded like it wasn't much harder to get it working with Ubuntu.