You know how you can connect your laptop to your phone when you're in the middle of no-where and use the internet on your laptop through your phone as the modem... well that's what you are doing here, only instead of connected via Data cable, you're simply connecting to your phone via 802.11 and using your phone as the modem to connect to the web via 3g.
So say you were out in a forest no where near a hotspot and you wanted to check your email through your laptop (because you have a VPN set up for example to a mail server or what not) or because you have a specific application that needs an internet connection, then you would simply browse for an 802.11 network (which would be your phone) and connect to it. Your phone however would be forwarding that connection through 3g or whatever.
so instead of the old:
internet requesting device > data cable > phone > wireless data network provider (phone service provider packet data network).
you can now connect this way:
internet requesting device > 802.11> phone> wireless data network provider.
This way allows for more devices to utilize the phone's modem capabilities because more devices are 802.11 enabled. It also allows for more ways to connect to the internet for devices, especially if a wireless hot spot is not available.
It not about getting a wifi connection to the net. Its about getting 'a' connection to the net. So when there is no wifi hotspot for you, but there is a 3G signal etc you can use the 802.11 method of connection between the 2 devices which allows the phone to become the modem for the data connection to your laptop (for example). Your external device has net access at 3G speed.
Its not replacing connection byi WIFI. Its giving the availability of a connection option when there IS no wifi