The 3G Vita’s Tethered Alternative

As a follow on from my first impressions of the 3G Vita last week, I thought it might be good to have a look at the alternative that many touted in the run up to the Vita’s launch; tethering to your smart phone.

The first step was naturally to connect the Vita, having turned its 3G radio off, to my phone. So, find the settings to turn on the hotspot function, sharing my phone’s 3G connection over Wi-Fi, and then delve into the Vita’s settings to try and connect to it. For some reason my first attempt to connect said there was an invalid character within the access point’s name. There was an apostrophe in my phone’s hot spot name, so I deleted that and all was well. Strangely, re-adding the apostrophe back doesn’t seem to cause any further issues.

The Vita remembers networks it has previously connected to, so if you’ve already connected to your phone’s hot spot once before simply turning the hot spot back on, and then taking your Vita into an online part of a game, should see it automatically hook up to the phone and go online. Aside from the minor hotspot naming hiccup, this was a much simpler set up than the 3G Vita’s.

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Before leaving the house, I decided to do a Connection Test on my Vita, and see what I can get in terms of bandwidth. The Vita reported 2.8Mbps download and 448Kbps upload, which is depressingly equivalent to my landline. However, the 3G was limited to NAT Type 3, rather than my landline’s NAT Type 2, leading to potential connectivity issues.

An additional issue is latency, and whilst the Vita doesn’t tell you this, I determined it from my phone to be around 100ms over 3G and 50ms on my landline. Not too bad, but also not particularly great for twitch-shooters.

To make the comparison to the Vita’s own 3G as fair as possible, I took my setup onto the same train journey as last week. Once safely on the train, it was time to log into PSN. So, out came the phone, and I dove through the settings once more to start sharing my 3G. Phone back in pocket, my Vita was turned on, and I loaded up Wipeout 2048. It detected my personal hot spot automatically, and tried to connect to PSN, seemingly doing so just fine.

Except it hadn’t really. When I went over to any of the single player races, it doesn’t show any of the leader board times. So I turned it off and on again, going to the Community part of the game to trigger a fresh connection attempt. This time I was passing through my known patch of weak signal, and so I naturally got an error message. The third attempt was finally successful and I could see leader board times, and post my own. By that point, it was about 10 minutes of annoyance, and to add insult to injury, I couldn’t improve on ColinBarr66’s times. Bah!

After that half-success, and with strong signal again, I figured I would try something more adventurous in the form of live head-to-head online multiplayer. This started off quite well, connecting first time, letting me sit in a lobby for a few minutes, and then loading up a race. Once the race had started, it was pretty clear that there’s a fairly large bit of lag. Opponents jerk around regularly before eventually they completely stop, and after a few second the game exploded my ship and declared that I’d been booted out of multiplayer.

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Successive attempts to rejoin, with a re-connection to PSN often required too, just reward me with more failure for 5 minutes with various error messages. I didn’t actually get to race again, but that’s not to say that tethered Wipeout 2048 multiplayer is impossible. You just need stable signal, and I was able to test this over 3G again back at home. Going online was fine, and I completed several races. Lag wasn’t too horrendous, but there was some noticeable jerkiness to my rivals.

Clearly the primary reason for locking away 3G multiplayer on the Vita was this signal strength and stability issue. A fair chunk of portable gaming surely happens whilst travelling, and it certainly doesn’t provide a good enough experience for full multiplayer.

Data usage was also quite high, and that’s something mobile companies wouldn’t want. Sitting in the lobby some how managed to use over 3MB of combined data for a minute or two of waiting, whilst the races themselves then took a further 2-4MB, depending on length and number of racers present. No, it’s not astronomical, but that kind of usage can easily take you up to the limit of a modest allowance, and get rather costly with extended play time on 3G over the course of a month.

All that being said, I think there is a stronger case against tethered play, and for the built in 3G. Even if the tethered connection works 100% of the time, it’s an extra layer of fiddling to get online, and that’s a surprisingly big mental hurdle to get past. I honestly can’t see many people bothering with tethering after one or two goes if they already have the built in 3G. The console’s connection is just simpler, and works well within the logical and necessary boundaries that Sony gave it.

Even on a speeding train.

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34 Comments

  1. God, playing online with you for your testing was torture…

    …and not because of the connection problems :P

  2. Hold on a moment… “Before leaving the house”. You visit the outdoors? :-)

    • I should really qualify that better. It’s my very own liliputbahn that I regularly ride around on to check the perimeter of my vast grounds.

      This week I was off for some minor negotiations with the Oompa-Loompas that live near my lake.

      • After your chocolate river, eh?

  3. Great article , i was wondering how the 3G tethering worked, thanks!

  4. unfortunately, giffgaff don’t allow tethering so i can’t even try this :\

    • You can try it. I did earlier. As long as you don’t make a regular thing of it, they won’t cut you off.

      But that’s why I got a 3G Vita – so I could stick a giffgaff SIM in it with a gigabag package – all the data I want, with no fear of being kicked.

      • that’s the thing though. just upgraded to iOS 5.1 and i found the “setup personal hotspot” option under network (because the update thought i was on O2).

        by the time the giffgaff settings pull down it disables the option appearing, so i can’t even set it up now. i’m not really fussed, just annoyed that it’s in the gigabags only so i can’t make full use of my phone.

    • I think they’d forgive you for just testing it out. I have my phone on giffgaff set up for tethering and I’ve used it several times in small amounts. They’re mainly worried about people using it instead of getting broadband and using up many gigabytes of data, I imagine.

  5. There remains one reason to tether, even with a 3G vita: bypassing the stupid download limit.

    Ffs, I have 8G monthly shared between my phone and my vita, I could download a full game and not go over any limit. Why does this thing have to make me jump through hoops to use my quota? Show me a few stern warnings (and make me input the parental control password if appropriate) and then let me change the limit.

    • I can see that point of view, but it’s a concession that is necessary from Sony when networks the world over are very wary of data usage. Some are much more generous, and it feels unfair when you consider edge cases such as yours, but I feel it might not really be Sony’s fault.

      After all, until this week, Apple’s App Store was also limited to 20MB in app size. Now it’s 50MB, which is in line with Google’s app package limits too. So here Sony is now trailing.

      I do think your suggestion of showing warnings and possibly requiring a code has merit, though. I’d like to see that implemented.

      • Google Play’s app size limit just went from 50MB to 4GB, along with the renaming of the service.

      • My understanding was that its still a 50MB limit, but now you can download further 4GB direct from Google, rather than in app and not from G’s servers.

        Not 100% clear to me, though.

      • The parental control code is kind of a necessity for cases where a parent lets a kid use a vita that’s running with a “pay for usage” subscription.

        But for grownups, it’s a matter between me and the phone company. I’d prefer a device to provide the tools needed to let me stay within my agreement with the phone co (configurable monthly limit, with warnings if I spend it so fast it will run out), and otherwise stay out of it.

        I don’t think their limit has much to do with making friends with providers (who would love for us to use a lot of data they can overcharge us for) but preventing the inevitable “I got a huge phone bill, and it’s all Sony’s fault” whining that would happen (no matter how many warnings they put in). Did I mention I hate people that blame others the consequences of their own stupidity?

  6. This is exactly why I bought a 3G Vita and a 3G iPad 2 despite having a phone that can act as a hotspot with a healthy monthly data bundle (12Gb).

    Having tried the tether thing with my wifi only iPad 1 I got sick to death of having to juggle two devices just to do one thing.

    Something you don’t mention in this article but probably should have:

    1) Wifi tethering will drain your phone battery at an alarming rate
    2) Have you felt how hot your phone gets when it’s running as a hotspot? At least my iphone 4 does!

    • It really is a surprisingly big mental hurdle to get past, despite knowing better!

      Battery drainage wasn’t too awful, since the screen was off, which helped to mitigate that a bit. My 4S does get very warm to the touch if it’s churning through 3G and working extra hard to compensate for poor signal strength.

    • After I’ve unlocked my phone I only have to press one widget and it toggles on tethering. Comparing it to just checking the time it’s one additional swipe and one button press. I really can’t see how this is a major inconvenience. Also, the Vita’s battery will be drained long before my phone battery dies so it’s still not a big deal.

      The article comes across as kind of negative because something was tested that shouldn’t be working under normal circumstances. The jerky 3G connectivity is the reason why we don’t get head to head online play and tethering is a workaround for that. While it does work, it’s not really enjoyable and that was to be expected. The reason why tethering makes sense is that you can do all the small things you can do with a 3G Vita but with a cheaper model (except for near which I think is pointless anyways because I’ll probably be the only vita owner within miles and I wouldn’t take it with me to the city). As someone pointed out, this way you can overcome the download limit if your phone’s data plan allows for it. As for services that rely on 3G connectivity like Maps or stuff like that, I’ll always have my phone with me so I’m not missing out on anything.

      I would have liked to see an article that show that a tethered Vita can do almost everything a 3G Vita can do instead of showing that it can’t actually overcome the technical boundries that Sony has foreseen.

      • It’s still an extra layer of friction which, as I say, is a big psychological hurdle. That’s regardless of how simple it is to turn on tethering. You’re far less likely to bother if it causes you any problems too, such as I found.

        My testing was primarily aimed at gaming on the go, directly comparing it to the 3G Vita in the manner I used it last week. I did this because in the run up to launch people were citing tethering as a complete alternative. From my poor experiences it simply isn’t one whilst you’re in motion.

        Tethering does have edge case advantages, yes. Whilst it wasn’t the point of the article, Wipeout 2048 actually played fine online when I was tethered and not moving. Aside from that, though, I didn’t really see tethering as a fully functional alternative to internal 3G.

        With glaring issues whilst in motion, I don’t think I could have written the article that you’d have liked to see. Technically it’s true, but practically it can be very, very different.

      • But that’s the thing. You made a direct comparison between 3G and tethered Wifi but used a feature that wasn’t designed to work in the first place because in the end the actual internet connection is being established through a 3G network.
        Asuming I understood the article correctly you had trouble with your connection during the weak signal part of your train ride and and after that went on to trying something that wasn’t designed to work.
        For all we know the first connection problem could have been a slight 3G hiccup that would have happened to your Vita’s 3G too. I’ve had very mixed experiences with 3G on train rides with my phone.
        I get the psychological barrier argument but with so many people complaining about prices these days I find it hard to believe that they are willing to spend the higher price for a 3G model and be too lazy to flick a switch on their phone

      • I felt it important to explore why head to head play was blocked off by Sony for built in 3G. That’s not a downside to tethered play, just saying that this was the reason. Tethered play whilst not moving was absolutely fine, after all. I know there’s several members of TSA that play online with their PS3s via 3G connections too.

        With the built in 3G, the Vita knows it’s getting weak signal and can compensate in some ways. With the tethered option it doesn’t, and so it doesn’t compensate as well for 3G hiccups meaning that I spent 10 minutes fiddling through the low signal areas, pulling out my phone again, seeing if it has signal, finding that it’s a little weak, maybe, trying to connect to PSN again etc. etc. That info was clear to me with the built in 3G, as it was just in the menu bar. Built in 3G also didn’t throw errors at me through this low signal area, but simply took longer to connect.

        The psychological barrier doesn’t necessarily mean that people will spend more, but rather that I believe the vast majority of Wi-Fi owners who bought thinking that they’ll tether to their phones will give it one or two goes, and then simply stop bothering.

      • Thanks for clearing that up, Tef. :)

      • @KeRaSh: Yes but you still have to pull your phone out of your pocket, turn the hotspot on and put it away before you can use your Vita online – each and every time.

        As for the battery, sure your Vita will run down first (say, in 5 hours) but if you have your phone on as a hotspot for 5 hours it will have sped up the battery depletion for the day – not that great if you still need your phone for the foreseeable future.

        Considering these devices are made for travelling where you might be away from a charger for >24hs, the last thing I need is for my phone battery to be at 50% after only 4-5hrs because it was left tethering. If my Vita runs flat I miss out on games, if my phone runs flat my life literally implodes.

  7. i don’t think i could even do that with my phone.

  8. hold wait a minute, the ps vita can take any sim card?

    • If you’re in the SCEE region, yes. You get a Vodafone SIM with it, but it’s not locked to the network, so you can put any SIM you want in it.

      As far as I know, that’s not the case in the US or Japan, where the system is locked to AT&T and (I think) DoCoMo respectively.

      • am in the UK ah man so I topped p £5 to get wipeout the game I hardly play on my vita when I could have got tmobile. If i topped that tmob I could have got unlimited internet for a 6 month free.. ah pissed

      • Well, you can switch any time – just get a SIM from your preferred network.

  9. Colin’s times really are too good! Tried tethering myself, got it to work but was a faff, as it sounds like it was for you too

    • Ah, that’s where you’re going wrong bloke, you don’t want to tether yourself – makes it hard to walk.

      • it was only a matter of time before somebody did that tethering joke. ^_^

  10. 3G is pointless. I’m glad I got the wifi version.

    • Way to not read the article. I’m glad you’re happy with wifi only, but that does’t automatically make 3G pointless, as described above.

      • Hahaha, please read the article before you comment.
        It was just shown that the 3G is superior to the wifi.

      • That is also not correct. You can’t crown something a clear winner after conducting only one test for each side. While it’s a great insight, it’s hardly scientific fact. Both devices have an audience and that’s why we have a choice.

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