Everyone knows that iOS 4.3 introduced the personal wifi hotspot setting. But for iPhone users who use Bluetooth tethering, is moving to WiFi a better option performance-wise? Not necessarily.
As a regular Bluetooth tetherer (every morning's Breakfast Wrap is brought to you by the power of NextG and Bluetooth), I was keen to see whether or not WiFi would deliver a speed boost over Bluetooth. Connecting my MacBook Pro to my iPhone through each method and running a speedtest on the computer three times for each connection, the results weren't quite what I was expecting.
Running through Bluetooth, I had an average Ping time of 184ms, average download speed of 0.99Mbps and average upload speed of 0.31Mbps. Compared to WiFi, which had an average ping time of 280ms, 0.96Mbps download and 0.18Mbps upload.
But when you take a closer look at the figures, you can see that depending on the test, the speeds could fluctuate quite wildly. When testing on the speedtest iPhone app without actually tethering, one download speed reached 8.05Mbps, compared to the other two speeds of 0.6Mbps and 0.75Mbps. Which leads me to believe that ultimately, there's not a really significant difference in speed between WiFi and Bluetooth tethering.
What is different is the physical act of connecting the device. For Bluetooth tethering, you can connect to your phone without having to take the phone out of your pocket after the initial pairing. WiFi tethering requires you to open up the personal hotspot setting page for the phone to appear in the wireless network options, which obviously requires you to pull out your phone.
I also noticed that when you drift out of network coverage, your WiFi connection disappears when tethered that way, while a Bluetooth connection remains despite the loss of a 3G signal. Given that the wifi connection should automatically reconnect once 3G coverage returns, this isn't too big an issue, but showcases the differences in the technology.
Ultimately, the decision to tether with Bluetooth or WiFi is going to come down to convenience and need - you can't Bluetooth tether an iPad to your iPhone, for example, so that makes the decision easy for some users. But if you're looking for the fastest connection, there doesn't appear to be too much difference between WiFi and Bluetooth.