Really, how fast is 3G tethering?


First, for some context (I'm adding this as representatives always look at me like I'm crazy when I say, "No, I don't want the ONE plan, and yes, I know it's unlimited"):

I'm debating going from the Simple Choice North America 10 GB plan (with data stash) to the new ONE plan (the basic one). With all the promotions over the years, going to the ONE plan would cost more, so I left it alone. My current plan is $120 for 6 lines, unlimited everything, with 10 GB/line LTE, taxes excluded..., and a tablet at $25 with 6 GB -- everything with taxes is $177 while the ONE plan would be $200. None of my current lines ever go above 10 GB of data usage (thanks to BingOn!), so staying with my current plan is ideal as I have fast tethering with that data stash bump when I need it, after that I would just hit the current ONE's restrictions.

So, the game changer is the new military discounts. My plan could go from the $177 to about $140, and the Netflix rebate adds another $10 in savings (even if it doesn't last) for a total of about $50/month. The only thing I lose is fast tethering for those times I need it. I'd have to use my LTE devices for the big data items instead of not caring as it didn't really matter before. If I needed to download something big, such as a large ISO, I could download it to my LTE device first, then transfer it locally to my computer, so not a big deal there. But, I do use tethering for work sometimes and this is the largest variable.

Now, the question is, how fast is the 3G tethering? I've been looking and looking, but can't find anything that actually says, it is xxx kbps. I've seen non TMobile sites claim it's at 512 kbps and others that say 128 kbps. I've seen on T-Mobile's site that wearables are maxed at 512 kbps and tethering in foreign countries is maxed at 128 kbps, but tethering is just "3G". I can determine if the speeds will be an issue using rate limiters on my firewall, so I just need to know T-Mobile's theoretical 3G speed. Is it 512 kbps or 128 kbps or something else? Outside of tower congestion and going over 50 GB and being throttled, what are the actual throughput speeds (taken in the best of conditions of course, such as near a tower and not where there isn't any coverage). Can someone provide a link on the T-Mobile site that says the speeds in numerical format? And can someone provide actual speed test results while tethering while using the ONE plan?

And, just to put it out there, I'm not looking for ways to mask tethering (that's easy) - if I was going to go that route, I wouldn't be asking my question.

Thanks in advance!


13 replies

Userlevel 6
Badge +13

From what I have experienced tethering domestically and while roaming.  T-Mobile's interpretation of 3G is being throttled to 128kbps unless there is no network congestion where you are.  If I tether out in Peirpoint, WV, I have had speeds good enough to play some PvE online through a laptop.  In most places though, expect between 128kbps to 512kbps.

I will throw in my two cents here as I'm dealing with the issue now. In testing over the past week, speed test sites are giving me 600k up/down limit on "3G". however, the seat of the pants test tells me there's no way it runs that fast when browsing so I ran some tests that I know aren't cheats. I host my own web server which is connected to a 1GB port in a colocation unit with five backbone providers. Bandwidth is no issue on my server. I installed a HTML5 speed test software suite and found similar results as with other tests out there (600k on 3G, 50MB on 4G). Every speed test I run goes at max speed without fail, however, when I grab a file from the same webserver it slows down to 12-200k  and more commonly I get 50k (3G). Pretty pathetic speeds - I'd be happy if it actually ran 512k as claimed.

I've been with T-mobile for two years and have only ever called about bandwidth issues. There's always something not right about the service. This last round with tech support was to correct my service plan (a previous rep "saved me money" and downgraded me to 3G ALL THE TIME... oops!) After they restored my service, I get 50MB/down and 3MB/up from my server using the speedtest software I host. When I do "real work", like pulling a CDROM ISO image file from the same server,  I get 6.5MB when it should really match the speed test suite. I'm really OK with 6MB on my cell phone just don't tell me up to 50MB and never deliver ... I want the steak not the sizzle.

Bottom line is you will never see the max bandwidth with T-Mobile (or other providers) outside of a speedtest because they throttle by packet type using statefull packet inspection. This is how they cheat the consumer by showing a super great speedtest result without having to deliver the same bandwidth in everyday use. What they call 3G is more like two or three ISDN modems bonded together. Ugh!

I used the Ookla speed test app and get 500kpbs tethered speeds on the prepaid $50/mo plan When tethered, consistent with T-Mobile’s “3G” speeds. i was told by one lovely Phillipino lady at the global call center that after the full 5G network rollout, tethering will be at 4G speeds, probably 30-40 times faster. Can’t wait!

Userlevel 7
Badge +12

If you are on the older T-Mobile One plan then it is 2G tethering and not 3G tethering iirc.  IIRC you have to be on the newest version which included North American Calling included.  Been a while since I paid attention to the plan since I got the 55+ plan.

I wish i was getting 512kbps. I have the t-mobile one plan (basic) and the 3g speed looks like it stays right around 70/kbps. This is on par with 2G speeds. Download test showed 0.6/Mbps (likely inflated). upgrading to the One Plus plan (an additional $15/mo per line) bumped the download speed up to 1.4/MBps, although that might be a website limitation as a speed test showed a download speed of 17/MBps.

In case anyone is wondering I have 3 bars of LTE.

To me this seems deceptive.

I was in Florida for Spring break and benchmarked my LTE at up to 208Mbps.  Very impressive.  However when I used the hotspot for my computer it was crazy slow.  I was only getting around 500kbps and was basically unusable.  Very disappointed.

Researching why I found this post that shows the 3G speeds to be limited to 512kbps so I guess I was throttled at that.  In a day and age when you can get 200+ Mbps LTE, we shouldn't be stuck on 3G hotspot.

What did you find out? I have found out that Tmobil throws "3G" around rather loosely. Because if they said "at best you get .5 mbps" it would not

go very well

Userlevel 6

I'm glad that helps a bit; and thank you for the feedback about the plan page/kbps, I can pass those on! 😊
I went ahead and unmarked the answer as Correct; and just switched this to a discussion instead. That way, folks may be more likely to chime in, but you'll be spared getting an email check-in from our team every few days; as is our M.O. with unanswered questions! 😉

Thanks, yes, this helps. I was looking around and didn't come across that. It'd be nice if that could go on the main plan page. And I thought about adding the Plus to one or two of the lines; as you said, even though it may add $10 or $20, it'd still be less than what I'm paying now.

And on a side note, I saw that Verizon had their unlimited plan (it's really comparable by the way with only 4 lines ($160, although it's slightly higher with taxes), anything after that, it's not cost effective), and they offered 600 kbps for tethered devices. It's not a big increase, but maybe it's time for T-Mobile to push the envelope and increase tethering to 650 kbps?!

I can mark this as the answer, but if I'd still welcome anyone else's feedback regarding the general quality of tethered data. If I go with the One plan, I can update this after a few months with my own experiences.

Userlevel 6

Hey there! Just wanted to check back in and make sure you'd had a chance to look over the info we were able to dig up. Please let us know if you have any more questions! 😊

Userlevel 6

Hey, @magenta4889407​! This is a good question, and it's smart to be researching before you make a plan change!
The short answer here is that we can't guarantee exactly what your 3G speed experience is going to be like. Speeds will vary depending on signal and tower proximity.


There's some helpful info about data speed projections here: Company Information | T-Mobile’s Broadband Internet Access Services​. At the bottom of the Latency section on that page, it calls out the following:

Some plans may, however, also include maximum speeds for some services. The T-Mobile ONE plan includes tethering at a maximum of 512 kbps.

Since that's the max; it may not necessarily be indicative of what your experience will be, but hopefully that helps a bit. I totally get wanting to maximize your savings if you do move forward with a plan switch! That said, do you know about how much data your family typically consumes via tethering? Would adding ONE Plus for $10 to a single like for the 10 GB at 4G/LTE be worth it? You'd still save some over what you're currently paying!

The main usage will be in the United States. I realize what the tethering speeds will be in other countries, but looking for the numbers for the United States.

Where you’re going makes all the difference. I use the One Unlimited when at my winter home in Santa Colombia I am tethered to my TV w/3G and can watch all my favorite programs w/o any interruptions or slowdowns. To which country or place do you plan to trave?

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