iOS 4.3 Personal Hotspot Battle: Bluetooth Vs WiFi

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.



    Hi Nick, you can Bluetooth tether your iPad to your iPhone, I am doing so right now.

      btw I am using a 3GS

      I confirm that Bluetooth tethering from iPad to iPhone works and it works well

    It's ridiculously frustrating, but I've never been able to get bluetooth tethering to work on my iphone 4. I did a factory restore to see whether it's the hardware and it isn't - works fine from factory restore but as soon as I restore my settings, text messages etc I also restore whatever setting is stuffed up in the first place. So annoying!

      Yeah I had connection issues with my iPhone 4 as well - Applecare had me create a new network location in MacBook Pro and it solved the problem.

    How do they compare when it comes to battery life?

    Although there's no denying the convenience of blu-tooth and wi-fi, the fastest and most reliable method is just to use USB. Plus you get the added bonus of charging and/or syncing your phone at the same time.

      You can also sync your iPhone via wi-fi and bluetooth without a UBS cable..I do it all the time..

    Thanks nick I was waiting for an article alon these lines but it didnt cover as much as I thought it would. How about comparing battery usage? For jailbreakers, are there any advantages to having mywi now? (keeping in mind we don't have tethering fees in aus)

    Thanks again!

      Using MyWi is cheaper if you have the ipad on a prepaid plan. I am effectively browsing & downloading on a mac, a windows and the ipad 24/7 for $50/month with voda (GC has decent coverage) Keep an eye on voda's plans however, as I noticed when I recharged they were changing the plan from unlimited to 10GB.

      Besides that, I've had no problems with MyWi

    Thanks for this Nick, I use bluetooth tethering predominantly (over regular cable tethering) so I'm interested to see the difference between the two.

    I was hoping you might be able to test out the battery life difference between wifi and bluetooth?

    Also, ive noticed sites load up noticably faster on my imac than tethering if i plug in my iphone via USB.

    Sorry, i meant i had noticed USB tethering faster than bluetooth of wifi.

    Great article! Does anyone know if the telcos here in Australia will be charging additional to use this feature via a "thethering plan"? (death to you!) Or will the data usage simply come off your monthly 3g data plan?

      Yes, Would you mind asking TPG, Telstra, Vodafone, Optus, 3 about their decision regarding this. I click on my iphone 4 personal hotspot and it says "ask optus". I'm with TPG but I really couldn't be bothered speaking to them. I'm hoping the news will be posted somewhere - like here! Thanks

      Telstra doesn't charge a fee. My bill just arrived and all was good. I'm on a $39 cap plan with 1GB of data a month. I'm not a hardcore tetherer, so 1GB is heaps.

    A comparison with USB based tethering would be great also.

    I was surprised to read that there was no speed advantage. I updated this morning and used hotspot straight away and found that my speed was 3x better for upload and download. I will have to do some further tests over the next few days to confirm.

    I also found setup much easier than others. I updated using bluetooth tethering to download the update on my MacBook. When the update was complete the MacBook was now connected to my iPhone using wifi hotspot. The strangest thing about this was that I had wifi turned off on my MacBook before the update.

    A couple of FACTS, These technologies have a maximum throughput of;
    Bluetooth V2.1 (iPhone4 supports)is 3 Mbit/s.
    Wi-Fi (iPhone4 supports) is 802.11 b/g/n (12/54/108 to 300 Mbit/s).
    USB 2.0 (iPhone4 supports) is 480 Mbit/s.

    "showcases the differences in the technology" - That is just Wrong to say that, as it is purely the implementation (software) used by Apple. If you wrote is as the "iOS technology", that would be a valid point.

    By the sounds of the rest of the article, these tests where done while moving. Where "one download speed reached 8.05Mbps" is not a scientific method of determining if Bluetooth or WiFi is faster. If the tests were done in a static location, interleaved with iPhone native tests & tethered tests, the results could be more believable.

    For those who need the question answered, generally WiFi uses more power then Bluetooth. If you notice the difference, that is another matter.

      The tests were done at my desk in Circular Quay, although I did test the tethering out on my commute.

    Any reason why when I open my Personal Hotspot in Settings I only have a Bluetooth or USB option? I have no WIFI option. I am on a Vodafone plan if that is any use.

      Sounds like you have a 3GS. Only iPhone 4 has both the wifi & Bluetooth option.

    When tethering my iPad (1st Gen) to my iPhone via Bluetooth (without jailbreak I should add, see, I get much lower speeds than when using Wifi tethering using Personal Hotspot. Battery life is much better on the iPhone tho, but seems like GPS data is not passed along using Bluetooth tethering as it does with wifi tethering. But if you have an older iphone 3GS or 3G, Bluetooth tethering is your only choice without jailbreaking your device.

    Bad article - factually incorrect. You can tether iPad to iPhone via Bluetooth. And what about some battery usage comparison, heat levels comparison, gps data sharing comparison etc etc.

    Good topic, poorly executed. Just my 2 cents.

    @Tricky to be fair to the author, at the time of writing this article the iPad Bluetooth tether to iPhone is not widely known as I'm sure Apple didn't want this new undocumented feature to canabilize sales of the new iPad 2 Wifi + 3G model, as people will just buy the wifi model then.

    I only discovered this whilst experimenting on a hunch and hence I blogged about it as I couldn't find anything that documented it.

    All that is required is possibly an update to the article with new information... :)

    well said tricky , i cant believe i wasted 30 seconds reading this amateur

    Hi, i strongly dissagree, I just tested my iPhone 4 with (WiFi only) iPad 2. The results are here in app and WiFi wins way ahead

    Any chance GIZMODO.AU could update his article as it is more than a year old taking into account the comments raised and any further research?

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