Tethering -- sometimes called using a personal hotspot or mobile hotspot -- is a great way to provide Internet access to other devices using your phone when you don’t have access to Wi-Fi.

In this guide, we’ll break down how tethering works, cover some important considerations before you tether your phone, and answer common tethering questions we see on our Q&A forums.


What is Tethering?

At its most basic, tethering is when you use your phone’s data connection to provide Internet access to other devices.

This is sometimes called using a mobile hotspot. While the outcome is similar, it's not the same as using a dedicated hotspot device.

Definition: Tethering

"Tethering, or phone-as-modem (PAM), is the sharing of a mobile device's Internet connection with other connected computers."
~ Wikipedia

There are a few ways you set up tethering on your phone.

Each method has a few pros and cons.

  • Wi-Fi tethering or personal hotspots:
    The simplest method available, tethering via Wi-Fi, works with just about any device with a Wi-Fi adapter and provides decent speeds. The downside is that it’s more taxing on your phone’s battery than other tethering methods.

  • Bluetooth tethering:
    Bluetooth tethering is less taxing on your battery, but speeds are typically quite slow. It’s also more complicated to set up and can only connect with one device at a time.

  • USB tethering:
    USB tethering offers the fastest speeds available. Better still, there’s a good chance your laptop or PC can keep your phone’s charge topped off while you tether so there’s no worry about battery life. However, it won’t work with all device combinations due to USB port requirements.

In general, we recommend Wi-Fi and USB tethering for most people.

While Bluetooth tethering works, it is finicky and is mostly a leftover relic of the early days of tethering.


Carrier Tethering Support

While it is becoming less common thanks to the feature being standard on most smartphones, carriers sometimes add a fee to your monthly statement for using tethering.

Additionally, they may only allow a certain amount of your data allotment to be used for tethering or throttle tethering speeds.

In most cases, the larger your data allotment, the more of that allotment data you can use before worrying about throttling.

If you plan to use tethering, our carrier reviews break down the tethering policies of popular carriers.

You can also contact your service provider and ask about any charges before using the feature just to be safe.


What to Watch Out For

Using your phone as a hotspot can go through a shocking amount of data quickly.

Especially, if you’re using your phone to provide data to a laptop or PC there’s a good chance it will go through data much quicker than you are used to on your phone.

That’s because mobile apps and websites are designed to deliver content as efficiently as possible since mobile data can be expensive.

However, this isn’t always the case for apps and services on other devices.

So be sure to keep an eye on your data usage -- especially if playing games, streaming media, or downloading large files.


How to Enable Tethering On Your Phone

With a clear definition of how tethering works and what to watch out for, let’s look at how you can actually use the feature.

These instructions should work with most devices.

However, if you’re using an Android device, menu options and names might differ slightly depending on the model of phone you’re using.

Tethering With an iPhone


Tap the “Settings” app on your iPhone

Tap “Cellular and Settings”

Tap “Personal Hotspot”

Activate the “Personal Hotspot” switch at the top of the page

Tap “Wi-Fi Password” to enter a secure password for other devices to use the tethering connection.

From here it will depend on how you want to connect the other device.

Each of these options will assume you already have completed the steps to activate the personal hotspot feature listed above.

iPhone Tethering Options

Wi-Fi
  1. Launch the wireless connection options on the device you wish to connect.
  2. Look on the list of wireless networks for the name of your iPhone.
  3. Connect to your iPhone and enter the password set when enabling personal hotspot if requested.
Bluetooth
  1. Enable Bluetooth on both the device you wish to connect and your iPhone.
  2. Put the device you wish to connect in Bluetooth pairing mode.
  3. Choose your iPhone from the list of pairable devices.
  4. Enter the code displayed on the device you wish to connect on your iPhone.
USB
  1. Ensure that iTunes is installed on the Mac or PC you wish to tether to your iPhone.
  2. Connect your iPhone to the computer using a USB cable.
  3. If prompted, tap “Trust” on the “Trust This Computer?” prompt.


If you need additional assistance setting up tethering, Apple offers an excellent guide in their support pages.


Tethering with an Android Phone

Tap the “Settings” app on your Android phone.

Tap “Network & Internet”

Tap “Hotspot & Tethering”

Tap “Wi-Fi Hotspot”

Activate the “Wi-Fi hotspot” switch at the top of the page.

Set your hotspot name and hotspot password if desired by tapping their entries on the page.

From here it will depend on how you want to connect the other device.

Each of these options will assume you already have completed the steps to activate the personal hotspot feature listed above.

Android Phone Tethering Options

Wi-Fi
  1. Launch the wireless connection options on the device you wish to connect.
  2. Look on the list of wireless networks for the name of your Android phone or the network name you set in the previous steps.
  3. Connect to your Android phone and enter the password set when enabling personal hotspot if requested.
Bluetooth
  1. Enable Bluetooth on both the device you wish to connect and your Android phone.
  2. Put the device you wish to connect in Bluetooth pairing mode.
  3. Choose your Android phone from the list of pairable devices.
  4. Enter the code displayed on the device you wish to connect on your Android phone.
  5. Tap “Settings” on your Android phone.
  6. Tap “Network & Internet” on your Android phone.
  7. Tap “Hotspot & Tethering” on your Android phone.
  8. Activate the “Bluetooth Tethering” switch.
USB

NOTE: USB tethering to your Android phone will not work with Mac PCs and laptops.

  1. Connect your Android phone to the computer using a USB cable.
  2. Tap “Settings” on your Android phone.
  3. Tap “Network & Internet” on your Android phone.
  4. Tap “Hotspot & Tethering” on your Android phone.
  5. Activate the “USB Tethering” switch.


If you need additional assistance setting up tethering, Google offers an excellent guide in their support pages.


Common Tethering Questions

1. Does My Phone Support Tethering?

There are simply too many phone models to give a definitive answer for every one of them.

Tethering used to require special apps and complicated setups.

However, if you’re using a smartphone manufactured in the past few years there’s a good chance the feature is built into the phone’s software.

2. Can I Tether or Use My Phone’s Mobile Hotspot Feature for Free?

This will depend on your carrier’s policies and the plan to which you are subscribed.

While we’d like to give a clearer answer, there are simply too many possibilities to list them all.

We recommend checking our carrier summaries for a quick overview of tethering policies.

If you have any questions not answered there, contacting your carrier is the most reliable option as they know exactly what phones, plans, and networks you are using.

3. Is Phone Tethering Safe and Secure?

While it’s only as secure as your mobile network, in most cases that’s a far safer bet than trusting whoever is running the router at your local coffee shop or hotel to keep things secure.

In most cases, your phone carrier goes through some effort to help encrypt any of the data transmitted across their network.

However, if you’d like to improve security one step further, you could always add a VPN to your set up.

Most support mobile devices.

Combine this with a strong password on the hotspot created by your phone and you should have a solid, secure connection on the go.

4. What Can I Connect to My Phone with Tethering?

There’s a good chance that if you can connect a device to Wi-Fi, you can connect it to your phone’s Wi-Fi hotspot feature.

This means you can connect other phones, tablets, laptops, PCs, game consoles, smart TVs, hand-held games, streaming media boxes, and more.

If you’re looking to tether using Bluetooth or USB, device support drops quickly.

If plugging your phone into the device with a USB cable or pairing it via Bluetooth doesn’t work to make the tethering connection, we’d recommend contacting the manufacturer to see if there are any additional options.

5. How Many Devices Can I Tether at Once?

This will depend on your phone.

However, most Android phones can support up to 10 simultaneous connections.

Apple’s iPhones are slightly lower, supporting up to 5 simultaneous connections.

Just keep in mind that each connection is going to use data.

Even pairing Apple’s limited 5 devices at once would chew through a few gigabytes of data surprisingly fast.

6. Does Using Tethering or Mobile Hotspot Features Impact Battery Life?

Using your phone’s hotspot feature essentially turns it into a tiny router.

This means you’ll see an impact on your battery life for sure.

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth modes will have the biggest impact. So we’d recommend plugging your phone into a charger or external battery pack if you’re going to be tethering for an extended period.

When tethering with USB, you have the added benefit that your laptop or PC is likely charging your phone while it’s providing data access.

So the impact is much lower -- if at all.

7. How Fast Will My Mobile Hotspot Connection Be?

This will depend on your phone’s signal quality, the network coverage in your area, your phone’s performance, and what you’re tethering to your phone.

In general, you can expect speeds slightly slower than what you’d typically experience on your phone.

This is because your phone has to process all of the information flowing through it before sending it to your tethered device.

If speeds are much slower, this could be a sign that your service provider throttles tethering speeds.

If so, contacting your carrier might provide additional options -- such as a different plan, a full-speed tethering add-on, or a dedicated tethering plan.

8. How Close Do I Need to Be to My Phone to Tether?

Again, this will depend on your phone. But most are capable of creating a nice bubble of Wi-Fi at least 7.5 meters wide.

In some cases, this can extend as far as 15 or 18 meters.

Don’t expect the coverage you’d get from a high-end router.

But in most cases, you’ll find it more than enough to keep a small-to-mid-sized room covered with no problems.

9. How Can I Reduce My Data Usage While Tethering?

If you’re looking to reduce data usage, one of the best things you can do is turn off any auto-updates or synchronization features on the device you’re tethering.

Pausing any cloud storage apps -- such as Google Drive, iCloud, Dropbox, or OneDrive -- and turning on manual updates for email clients are a great start.

If you’re tethering with a PC or laptop, turning off Mac or Windows updates can also help to avoid surprises.

Dropping the resolution on streaming video platforms -- such as Netflix or YouTube -- can help and reducing audio quality on music and podcast platforms -- such as Pandora, Spotify, or Apple Music -- can help to reduce data usage as well.

Better still, you can download videos to watch or music to listen to while on Wi-Fi to stay entertained while away and save your tethering connection for other things entirely.

These steps cover the basics. For more ways you can save data while tethering, be sure to check out our data saving guide.

10. Can I Use My Tethering While Roaming?

You can in most cases.

However, if your service provider would charge roaming fees for using data on your phone, you’ll also see roaming fees for using mobile hotspot data.

Combine this with the fact that most devices use more data than your phone would and its a recipe for a real case of bill shock when you get back from business or holiday travels.

11. Can I Still Use My Phone While It Is a Mobile Hotspot?

In most cases, yes. You should be able to place or receive calls, use mobile data, launch apps, and more.

However, resource- or bandwidth-intensive tasks could slow down speeds for any devices tethering at the time.

Wi-Fi access is likely the only feature you won’t be able to use.

This is because while your device is acting as a mobile hotspot, its Wi-Fi is running slightly differently than usual.

12. What About Mobile Hotspot Devices?

If you’re looking for a way to connect a lot of devices at once, want to spare your phone’s battery, or don’t like the idea of using hotspot features on your phone, a dedicated hotspot device is definitely a viable option.

Most support more connections than phone tethering and will run for hours at a time without breaking a sweat in the battery department.

However, most carriers will want a hotspot device to be on its own plan.

By the time you pay for the hotspot device itself and service each month, the cost isn’t exactly negligible -- especially if you’re tied to a term commitment for service.

Performance-wise, you should get a fairly comparable experience.

So unless you have a need for a separate device -- or your carrier throttles or otherwise limits phone tethering -- we think just using your phone’s hotspot feature is an acceptable solution for the average person.

13. How Does Using My Phone’s Hotspot Compare to a Data-Only SIM?

In terms of performance, you should see similar results.

However, much like comparing tethering to dedicated mobile hotspot devices, using a data-only SIM in your tablet or other device comes with additional costs you might avoid by using your phone’s tethering feature -- such as monthly service fees and potential contract commitments.

On the other hand, a data-only SIM is always on and you won’t have to go through the steps to enable your hotspot every time you want to connect your device.

So there is certainly a convenience factor to consider.

Especially if you’re frequently using data on another device.

14. What About My Tablet? Can I Tether with That?

If you have a tablet with a data SIM slot, there’s a good chance you can tether other devices to it as well.

For iPads, the steps are identical for the iPhone instructions listed above.

For Android tablets, steps should be similar to the Android instructions above.

However, exact steps might vary slightly based on the manufacturer.


Summary

Phone tethering -- also known as the mobile hotspot or personal hotspot feature on most smartphones -- makes it easy to share your phone’s data connection with other devices.

You can connect using Wi-Fi, USB, or Bluetooth -- although Bluetooth is a bit outdated at this point.

Just be sure to check any tethering policies from your carrier and mind your data use and battery life and you should be able to enjoy fast, secure Internet access anywhere you have a solid signal.


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REFERENCES:
[1] Apple: How to Set Up a Personal Hotspot on Your iPhone or iPad
[2] Lifewire: What Is Tethering a Cellphone?
[3] How-To Geek: How to Tether Your Android Phone and Share Its Internet Connection with Other Devices
[4] Computerworld: How to Use a Smartphone as a Mobile Hotspot
[5] MoneySavingPro: What is Tethering a Cell Phone?
[6] Lifehacker: Why Should I Buy a Hotspot When I Can Just Tether to My Phone?
[7] Gizmodo: The Complete Guide to Tethering From Your Phone or Tablet When You Don't Have Wi-Fi
[8] PC World: How to Tether Your iPhone